Rivera amazes pitching coach Rothschild

New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera #42 leaves the

New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera #42 leaves the field after the Yankees beat the Los Angeles Angels 6-5 at Yankee Stadium in New York. (Aug. 11, 2011) (Credit: John Dunn)

TORONTO -- Larry Rothschild, who has been around baseball long enough that he's not surprised or in awe too often, shook his head at a still-acute memory from six months ago.

It was March 13 at Steinbrenner Field, when 41-year-old Mariano Rivera made his spring debut against the Twins. The outing didn't last long.

"He throws one sim [simulated] game and very few sides and goes out and strikes out the side the first game he pitches in spring training," Rothschild said. "In pitches. There's not a lot of people that can do that."

Standing on the top step of the dugout at Safeco Field before Wednesday's game, the 57-year-old pitching coach reflected on his first season with Rivera. The closer is two saves from passing Trevor Hoffman on the all-time list as the Yankees start a three-game series Friday night at Rogers Centre.

Rivera recorded No. 600 Tuesday night in Seattle. That one and No. 599 also were fresh in Rothschild's mind, and not only because they just happened.

"The last two games he slide- steps to keep runners [close],'' Rothschild said, "and he gets a double play to end one game and gets a guy thrown out to end the next."

Rivera did it Sunday in Anaheim with Erick Aybar on first, inducing a double-play grounder from Howie Kendrick. On Tuesday, he slide-stepped with the speedy Ichiro Suzuki on first, and Russell Martin threw him out stealing in a bang-bang play.

"There's a lot of closers that aren't going to do that, especially guys with his success," Rothschild said of the slide step, which essentially is quickening the delivery to the plate. "And up until that point he has hardly slide-stepped this year. But he picked the two games where you needed to do it to get it done . . . and he did it."

But back to spring training for a moment. Rivera had his first bullpen session Feb. 23, which was Rothschild's first time watching him up close. Rivera, as was the case the last several springs, was the last pitcher to throw. That day he threw 30 pitches.

"Same delivery," Rothschild said. "The ability to repeat it over and over. And not just to one spot, but to do it in different areas. The cutter's obviously huge, but the command of it is what makes that pitch. You'd have to go long and hard to find anyone who comes close to it. I can't come up with anyone."

Rothschild, like any pitching coach, is required to be part technician and part psychologist.

Except for Rivera.

"He knows his delivery so well," Rothschild said. "He knows when it's a little bit off, what to do about it, correct it."

Yankees pitchers have talked since spring training about Rothschild's professorial nature, uber-preparedness and technical mastery of pitching. He slowly broke into a smile when asked about how one coaches Rivera.

"I don't know that you really coach somebody that's done what he's done, you're just more of a sounding board," Rothschild said. "Let him talk about it if he doesn't feel right. And I'll just walk over and tell him what I see.

"It's more of just an exchange of ideas than it is me coaching him. It's different from almost any other player."

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