David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
Maybe the Yankees should have asked Mariano Rivera to stick around after yesterday's first-pitch ceremony with the Core Four. A few hours earlier, the Yankees learned that David Robertson, the closer-in-waiting behind the great Rivera, was headed to the disabled list with a Grade 1 groin strain, an injury they didn't announce until after the 4-2 victory over the Orioles.
There was no point in alerting Buck Showalter that Robertson would be unavailable. Even when Shawn Kelley entered in a save situation for the ninth inning, the assumption was that Robertson needed a break after pitching three of the previous four days.
But this was more than early-season maintenance. Afterward, Robertson couldn't pinpoint when he hurt himself, only that the pain worsened with every pitch during Sunday's save in a 6-4 win over the Blue Jays. When he woke up Monday morning, Robertson knew it was trouble.
"It's definitely a little frustrating," Robertson said. "It seems like something always happens to me."
Unfortunately for the Yankees, he's right. The first time Robertson was asked to close -- after Rivera's season-ending knee injury in 2012 -- he held the job for eight days before landing on the DL himself with a strained left oblique. This year, at the very start of the post-Rivera era, Robertson made it six days as the Yankees' closer.
Injuries happen, and the Yankees were spoiled with Rivera. But of all their concerns this season, Robertson was supposed to be a little lower on the list. And to lose him this early forces the team's decision-makers to scramble at the back end of the bullpen.
In 2012, the Yankees were fortunate to have Rafael Soriano, who before Rivera and Robertson got hurt was considered a foolish impulse buy at $35 million over three years. But Soriano had 92 saves on his resume, and he earned his salary that season with 42 in 46 chances.
Can the Yankees get lucky again with Kelley? Considering that Monday was career save No. 1 for the previously designated setup man, it's difficult to say.
Here in the second week of April, Girardi is in the feeling-out phase of his bullpen management, and now everyone is moved back a slot.
Judging by Girardi's navigation of the late innings so far, that slides Adam Warren into Kelley's vacated eighth-inning spot, with David Phelps and the shaky but hard-slinging Dellin Betances in the middle innings.
The Yankees didn't make any significant upgrades to the bullpen in the offseason other than signing lefthander Matt Thornton for the Boone Logan role, and removing Robertson from the equation could be a major headache. As much as Girardi likes wearing out a path to the mound, the trickle-down effect of Robertson's absence is going to require a leap of faith on some occasions.
"It's not what you want," Girardi said, "but you have to figure it out. Other guys will get a chance to step up, and you expect them to step up and get the job done in his absence."
Expect? Hope is more like it when it comes to a bullpen, where random castoffs or failed starters are thrown together on the off chance they can combine to form a winning formula.
Rivera was the closest thing to a guarantee this sport has ever had for a relief pitcher, and the Yankees were banking on Robertson's being the next-closest thing to Rivera.
What does that make Kelley? The Yankees don't have the luxury of being picky here, but he's shown promise, and Kelley is 1-for-1. In four appearances this season, he has allowed one hit in 31/3 scoreless innings, with two strikeouts and zero walks.
As auditions go, Opening Day in the Bronx was a nice test, and Kelley seemed to enjoy the experience.
When asked about the extra pressure of Rivera in attendance, Kelley smiled. "It's good I didn't blow it, right?" he said. "He would have been mad at me."
But there is no living up to Rivera's standards around here. The best the Yankees can shoot for is an adequate replacement, and with Robertson lost indefinitely -- again -- they evidently don't have one yet. It could be Kelley for a few weeks. Maybe longer.
Without Rivera, as we keep being reminded, nothing is guaranteed.