When Joe Girardi talks about protecting his players — giving them days off, limiting their workload — he’s usually talking big picture. Yes, he wants to avoid moderate, day-to-day injuries, but in many cases those are unavoidable. The nightmare scenario involves the devastating, long-term injuries that linger well beyond a day or two and alter careers.
But Mariano Rivera only has the day-to-day. How does Girardi manage the workload of a pitcher who has everything to gain in the short term and nothing to lose in the long term?
“Whether the guy says he’s going to retire or not, I would hate to be the guy that forced the guy into retirement early,” Girardi said. “It’s always a factor, and you have to weigh, maybe a guy can go out there four or five days in a row, but what’s his stuff going to be like? Then do you not have the good stuff, and then you’ve got to give him three days off. There’s just a lot of things to weigh there. You think about, and I’m sure Mo thinks about, ‘My plan is not to be closing games next year, so what do I have to save?’”
After pitching three days in a row, Rivera is almost certainly unavailable tonight. There’s a chance Dave Robertson is unavailable as well — at the very least, Girardi would like to stay away from him — and Shawn Kelley is shut down with that triceps issue. Who would close tonight might be a matchup issue, and it’s certainly a mystery at this point.
“My thinking is I can’t afford to get them hurt, number one,” Girardi said. “That’s first and foremost; you don’t want them to get hurt because then they’re down for a long period of time. That would really hurt us. That’s the first thing you have to think about. I think you have to trust the communication that’s between them, Larry and me is honest communication on how they’re feeling. You try to look at how many pitches they’ve had. It’s tough. And it becomes tougher when you have a stretch like this of 17 days in a row, because if you get in a lot of close games, you can’t use them every day.
“My thought going into tonight is we may not have either one of (Rivera or Robertston). That’s kind of my thought going into the day and you go from there.”
When it comes to guys like Rivera and Robertson, Girardi said he often has to take the decision out of their hands. Players want to play. Girardi has to try to protect them from themselves, regardless of plans for next year.
“I think Mo’s probably saying, in his mind, ‘I’m not really saving it for anything in the future,’ so I think that’s what you have to judge,” Girardi said. “With Robby, obviously he’s been important to us and you don’t want to get him hurt. A lot of our guys are always going to say, ‘Yeah, I think I can go,’ but we have to weigh the type of stuff that they would take out that day, number one, and number two, are you going to hurt them?”
• Shawn Kelley played catch today and should throw a bullpen in the next few days, likely this weekend. He told the Yankees about discomfort in his triceps after Sunday’s outing — when he was knocked around — and he hasn’t been available since. “He’ll have a bullpen shortly after (playing catch),” Girardi said. “If that goes good, he should be available to us.”
• Dropping Robinson Cano to the cleanup spot is all about putting more distance between the two lefties in this lineup. Been a lot of splitting the lefties this season. Now the Yankees lineup actually has a ton of right-handers for a left-handed starter.
• Girardi said David Phelps threw a bullpen today and should throw a short simulated game on Monday. Seems like there’s at least a chance of getting him back at some point this year, but probably not stretched out.
• Speaking of which: Kevin Youkilis did some light tee and toss today and will go to Tampa when the Yankees hit the road on Monday. Youkilis is still hoping to get back this season. “If I can make it for that last week, that’s great,” Youkilis said. “Hopefully, too, for the playoffs.”
• Clearly the Yankees could use some innings out of Andy Pettitte tonight: “It’s important,” Girardi said. “We’ll watch Andy closely and make a determination of where he’s at after each inning. But some distance would be nice.”
• Given the current bullpen situation, Phil Hughes could factor into tonight’s late-inning plans. “My hope was I could get him out of the bullpen one day before it was a high-leverage situation,” Girardi said. “But that may not happen now.”
• Also, Cesar Cabral could factor into this bullpen situation somewhere for situational work. “He looks like he’s been pretty tough on left-handed hitters with his breaking ball, and he threw a good fastball last night to lock up Drew,” Girardi said. “He’ll probably get some more chances because of what he’s done so far.”
• As for tomorrow, David Huff is cleared for more pitches than you might expect: “I don’t think 100 pitches is too much to ask; 90 to 100,” Girardi said. “Just because he was built up as a starter, he had some fairly decent outings for us where he went in the 50s and 60s, I believe. He should be able to come close to that.”
• Girardi was out for some early catching drills today: “Just working with the kids, the young kids,” Girardi said. “We’re working on all parts of the game – the blocking, the throwing. I just wanted to watch J.R. do his work. I’ve seen the other guys on a regular basis this year, but I wanted to watch J.R. He’s working hard. He’s trying to stay prepared in case he gets in.”
Associated Press photos