Mariano Rivera gets night off after getting mental tuneup

Mariano Rivera reacts on the mound after allowing Mariano Rivera reacts on the mound after allowing consecutive home runs in the ninth inning of the Yankees' 5-4 victory over the Detroit Tigers. (Aug. 11, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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There was no use in pretending otherwise. Not after three straight blown saves for the first time in his 19-year career. Even Mariano Rivera admitted before Monday night's game that something was wrong with him.

"It's just the release of the ball -- it's not consistent," Rivera said. "When you're consistent, the ball has sharper breaks. When you leave the ball up, it basically does nothing. There's nothing there. There's no life."

In layman's terms, Rivera felt like he was in a need of a tuneup, which is why he sat down Monday with pitching coach Larry Rothschild for a mental refresher on the basics of his delivery. When that discussion was over, Rothschild, along with Joe Girardi, decided that Rivera needed a night off.

"We just felt it was better," Girardi said after the Yankees' 2-1 win over the Angels. "Mo's never going to back out of a situation -- never. And that's where you have to manage the player and understand that sometimes they just need a day."

It was only the second time this season Rothschild and Rivera had a serious, detailed chat about his mechanics, and after Rivera served up a pair of homers Sunday, Rothschild saw a few things worth talking about.

Rothschild noticed that Rivera's stride to the plate was off and likely was causing him to be erratic with his release point, which then caused his pitches to stay up in the zone. In this case, Rothschild expected Rivera to figure himself out during their discussion. "He usually self-corrects with just a conversation," Rothschild said. "He is really good at putting into words what he's feeling."

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Physically, Rivera says he's fine. At 43, coming off knee surgery, he has plenty of built-in excuses for what's happened during his past three trips to the mound. Rivera has yet to lean on any of them.

"It's not something that you just turn the switch and turn it off," Rivera said before the game. "You have to keep working. You can't stop. When it happens, everything is magnified, like 'Ooh' I lost a leg or something. This happens."

Rivera's velocity has been relatively steady. Since 2007, according to Pitch f/x data, his two-seam fastball, or sinker, has averaged 93.06 mph and his signature cut fastball 92.30. This season, the two-seamer sits at 92.64, the cutter 91.43. Not a huge drop-off there.

The movement on both pitches during this season also is very similar to Rivera's seven-year snapshot, according to Pitch f/x. As for pitch selection, Rivera has used his cutter 90 percent of the time this season and two-seam fastball 10 percent. Since 2007, it's been 89 percent cutter, 11 percent two-seam.

For Rivera, it's not about the numbers. It's about feel, and he knows this is a matter of finding his rhythm again -- not necessarily fixing anything. He also laughed off the suggestion he's running out of gas.

"Oh no, there's a lot left in the tank," Rivera said. "I think the tank is getting full again. It's just a matter of pitching, delivering, what I normally do. If the tank is getting empty, meaning the speed is going low and everything is low, then you have to get out of the car and push the car."

A closer look at Rivera's three blown saves reveals just how freakish this streak has been. Last Wednesday, in Chicago, Adam Dunn somehow slapped an 0-and-2 cutter through the left side of the infield for the tying single with two outs in the ninth.

On Friday, Miguel Cabrera battled Rivera for seven pitches before drilling a 93-mph two-seamer over the centerfield wall. On Sunday, Rivera again left a pair of critical pitches up in the zone, with Cabrera and Victor Martinez both taking him deep to tie the score. In between, Rothschild thought Rivera did a great job jamming Prince Fielder with a cutter, so he knows it's just a matter of limiting the bad ones. "The hitters, I would say 99.9 percent, they will definitely hit the mistakes," Rivera said. "If you leave it there, they will hit it."

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