ARLINGTON, Texas - Joe Girardi won't handle his bullpen with kid gloves the rest of the way, but he knows the danger if he's not careful.
"You hope off days come at the right time, you get some distance out of your starters and you just have to manage it,'' Girardi said before Wednesday night's game. "You know you can't overwork them or you're not going to get the same production.''
Production that has been mostly stellar this season, the reason the unit's collective meltdown in Tuesday night's 12-11 victory over the Rangers stood out.
Three of the group's most consistent performers, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances and David Robertson, struggled.
Warren allowed two hits and a walk and recorded only one out before giving way to Betances, who gave up a grand slam to J.P. Arencibia. Robertson improved to 27-for-29 in save chances in the ninth but made a mess of the inning, allowing two runs, two hits and three walks. He finally ended it when Adrian Beltre just got under a 3-and-2 pitch, hitting a fly ball to the edge of the track in left.
"I feel like the luckiest guy on Earth right now for escaping that inning as bad as I pitched,'' Robertson said. "It was by the skin of my teeth that I got it done.''
Everyone involved chalked up the performances to "just one of those nights,'' but the three are among the most worked relievers in baseball this season. With the Yankees having lost 80 percent of the rotation that opened the season, it has not been easy. More times than he would like to count, Girardi has had to rely on his bullpen to record 10 outs or more. Warren, Betances and Robertson have received the bulk of that work, begging the question: Are they tiring?
"They've been used, but they've been pretty good, too,'' Girardi said. "They struggled [Wednesday], but they've been pretty good. So it's just one of those nights . . . I don't worry about our bullpen, our bullpen's going to be good down the stretch.''
Still, Girardi hasn't discounted having some concern about overuse.
"I do [worry] a little bit and I'll have to watch them as we go down the stretch here,'' he said after Tuesday's game. "The good thing is we have an off day Thursday and some of the guys won't pitch tomorrow. That will give them two days off and should refresh them a little bit.''
Before last night's game, Girardi said, "I'll check with everyone and see how they are.'' Clearly, if possible, he would have preferred to stay away from Robertson (31 pitches Tuesday), Betances (25) and Warren (24).
The relievers shrugged off their workload, with Robertson saying that the poor performances were coincidental.
"I don't know if it's workload or it's just . . . usually we feed off of each other and do real well,'' Robertson said. "I think today just wasn't our day. We weren't clicking and the offense was. We had a bad day, an off night, and maybe we'll be better tomorrow.''
Betances and Warren were starters before shifting to bullpen roles this season, which they quickly embraced and continue to embrace. Warren leads the team with 48 appearances, followed by Betances' 47.
"We're going to pitch a lot,'' Betances said. "It's the second half and we're trying to make the playoffs. I feel good, though. I've been keeping up on my [throwing] program and I'll be ready to go whenever my name is called upon again.''