On Tuesday, the New York Yankees bullpen will get a nice boost when David Robertson likely makes his return from the DL. The projected heir to Mariano Rivera’s closer throne faced five batters in an extended Spring Training game on Saturday, and showed no signs of the left groin strain that has kept him from the mound since April 6.
The Yankees will be thrilled to have their All-Star caliber reliever back when they begin a three-game series at Fenway Park on Tuesday, but one thing that should not be overlooked is the terrific job Shawn Kelley did while Robertson was sidelined. With Robertson being inactive for almost two weeks, the bullpen could have easily fallen apart for the Yankees. However, the team’s other relievers stepped up in a big way while he was gone. They even put together a streak of 16.1 consecutive scoreless innings.
The bullpen’s success all began with Kelley’s ability to seamlessly step into the closer role. While Robertson was on the shelf, he gave up just two runs over 7.1 innings, picking up four saves. This included three saves against divisional opponents. Kelley’s only blip came on April 9 when he gave up a pair of ninth-innings runs and picked up the loss against the Baltimore Orioles. However, he did not let that poor outing ruin his confidence, and only ended up allowing just one hit in his six other appearances while Robertson was out.
In 2013, Kelley showed an incredible ability to strike batters out, getting 73 Ks over 53.1 innings. On Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays, the 29-year-old right-hander’s swing-and-miss stuff was once again on display as he struck out four batters to help him post two key scoreless innings in the Yankees’ 5-1 victory.
In all likelihood, Robertson will return to the closer role on Tuesday, which is something he has earned after several terrific years as the team’s setup man. Having Kelley return to the eighth inning role will make the back end of the Yankees’ bullpen much more secure.
But if Robertson falters early on in his return as the team’s closer, then there will be plenty of cries to switch Kelley back to the ninth. Based on the way Kelley performed in Robertson’s absence, it will be a move that manager Joe Girardi will have to at least give serious consideration to.