As you have undoubtedly heard by now, the New York Yankees got bit, once again, by the ravenous injury bug that has also wreaked havoc on the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox this season. Generally, the loss of a team’s closer is a blow that can be overcome with more ease than other positions. We’re talking about the best clsoer of all time though in Mariano Rivera. I give you permission to smack anybody who tries to argue otherwise. It is possible that the New York Yankees and New York Yankees fans have seen the last pitch from Mariano Rivera. I said that we needed to cherish every single pitch that he threw this season, I just didn’t know that the season would end so soon. 2012 goes on though and if the New York Yankees want to win the final game in October/November, they have to regroup.
Before I start on personnel discussion, let me address the cause of Rivera’s injury. As we know, Rivera was injured shagging flies during batting practice. I know there are at least a few people wigging out (do people even say that anymore?) about a relief pitcher running around after fly balls before a game. I can understand where they are coming from. Similarly, whenever Rivera got an at-bat during interleague play, I always rooted for a strikeout. The last thing I want is for him to have to run the bases and hurt a foot or ankle. However, I just can’t get worked up over the cause of this particular injury. Maybe in the future the Yankees ban pitchers from partaking in such activities, but he’s been doing this for years – nearly decades. This injury could have happened covering first base.
Moving on. The only thing the New York Yankees can do at this point is plug the holes. Either David Robertson or Rafael Soriano will take over the closer’s role. I prefer the former, but the latter is pulling in a bigger paycheck and has some experience in the role – two points that could factor into who pitches in the eighth inning and who pitches in the ninth. It doesn’t make a big difference to me as long as each one is pitching the way he is capable of. The more pressing issue is the seventh inning. In an old school world, the Yanks would just ask their starters to go deeper or their set-up man and closer to pitch multiple innings more often. We’re in a new age though and each club has to designate a specific guy for each of the last three innings. Enter Phil Hughes.
I had been a part of the the Hughes-in-the-rotation camp all offseason and throughout Spring Training, but I’m officially changing my tune. David Phelps has already banished one struggling Yankee to the bullpen and now it is time for Andy Pettitte to do the same. Honestly, the way Hughes was pitching, he was headed to the bullpen anyway. The difference now is that he’ll have a legit role as the 7th inning guy (I presume) as opposed to knocking around as an extra arm. Considering Pettitte is making his next start in Triple-A, I think it is pretty safe to suggest that Pettitte could be back in the New York Yankees rotation by Memorial Day.
There is no way for the New York Yankees to replace everything that Mariano Rivera brings to the table, but at least they have the ability to plug the holes with capable players. Hopefully the injury bug moves on though because the Yanks have blown through their first layer of starting pitching depth.
For more reaction and speculation regarding the New York Yankees and their pitching staff follow me on Twitter @craigmwilliams.