I talked to Dave Robertson for about three minutes this afternoon. The conversation was strictly about sunscreen. Our longest conversation that I can remember from spring training was all about where he buys boots in Tampa. He did that one group interview about the ninth inning right when spring training opened, but for the most part, Robertson has quietly taken this new role without many questions or early problems.
A narrow lead tomorrow night will be Robertson’s to protect with no Mariano Rivera behind him and no Rafael Soriano safety net waiting in the wings. It’s a huge change for the Yankees, and it’s hardly ever come up in conversation the past month and a half.
“I think he’s earned that role over time behind here,” Joe Girardi said this afternoon, asked about Robertson for what felt like the first time in a month. “What he’s done when he first came up, and then moving to the eighth inning and the success that he had, some of the dominance that he showed in the course of seasons and being a big strikeout guy, I think he earned the responsibility of the closer.”
It’s worked out so far. Robertson had a quietly strong spring allowing just one hit and two walks through seven Grapefruit League games. He will go to the bullpen tomorrow night as the unquestioned closer, and Girardi said the transition comes with a long leash.
“There’s no doubt he’s going to blow a save (eventually),” Girardi said. “It just happens. I know one guy had a streak for a long, long time, but it’s part of the game. And I think his teammates will have his back and I think he’ll bounce back. … I don’t go into the season thinking that he’s not going to be our closer or I’m going to have a short leash. He’s our closer.”
Three other bullpen notes leading into tomorrow’s opener:
1. Girardi said he still plans to have Shawn Kelley and Matt Thornton as his primary eighth-inning options. As for the seventh inning, it sounds like he would be more likely to use either David Phelps or Adam Warren rather than Dellin Betances or Vidal Nuno. “I’ll probably go with the experienced guys a little more (in the seventh),” Girardi said. “And then you’ll see how they’re throwing and maybe you go with the hot hand a little bit.”
2. Speaking of guys like Phelps, Warren and Nuno: Girardi said each night he wants to hold one of those three back as a true long/mopup man, but he also expects to use those three in shorter stints. “Sometimes when you only have one long man and that guy gives you five or six innings, unfortunately for that guy, sometimes he gets sent down,” Girardi said. “You might not have to do it in this case because we have a couple of different guys who can do that. I anticipate us having some multiple-inning guys too, so our bullpen’s going to have a different look. Most of the years I’ve been here it’s been seven, eight, nine – it’s been drawn out – but that’s not so clear now.”
3. Donnie Collins reports that spring bullpen standout Chris Leroux is likely being held back in extended spring training so that he can be stretched out to pitch as a starter this season. If that happens, it seems Scranton/Wilkes-Barre will open with a rotation of Alfredo Aceves, Shane Greene, Bruce Billings, Chase Whitley and Brian Gordon. Leroux, Manny Banuelos and Nik Turley could be added to that mix at some point. That’s a lot of spot start/long relief options down the road. “We’re hoping we have some depth, we’re hoping we have alternatives,” Brian Cashman said. “We’re hoping we have protection when the storm comes, because it does come. It comes for everybody.”
Associated Press photo