PANAMA CITY - It was as ceremonial as it gets when you talk about moving on.
Mariano Rivera threw out the first pitch before Saturday night's exhibition game against the Marlins at Rod Carew Stadium.
No surprise there, considering this two-game series between the Yankees and Marlins is being held expressly to honor Rivera.
But catching the pitch wasn't Derek Jeter, who certainly would have been a logical choice.
No, it was David Robertson, groomed as the heir to the greatest closer in history. "Pretty awesome,'' he said of the experience.
"It's passing the torch,'' Rivera said. "It was wonderful having him here in my hometown. My prayers are that Robertson will do the job.''
Robertson had called Rivera "a great friend of mine. He's been a mentor for so long for me.'' He added, "It's good knowing he believes I can do it because I believe I can do it. It's nice to know someone who has 600 saves thinks I have the capability to do it.''
No worries with Jeter
The hitting hasn't looked great for Jeter, who started at shortstop Saturday night and will be the DH Sunday afternoon. But that's not even close to a concern for Joe Girardi. "He's a lot further ahead than he was last spring, I can tell you that," Girardi said of Jeter, who entered Saturday night 4-for-23 with a .231 on-base percentage. "Last spring we were watching him force it, we were watching him limp, not being able to play back-to-back games. It's a much different spring. It's got a much different feel to it."
Canal floors Girardi
Girardi, an engineering major at Northwestern, was blown away by Friday morning's visit to the Panama Canal, which opened in 1914 and uses essentially the same technology now as then.
"When you look at the Canal and the construction of it and it's been open 100 years and how important it is to our world," Girardi said. "I was kind of in awe how it operates and what they had to do to build it. To see the GE [General Electric] system that they used for 85 years and it still works, it's a backup . . . It's really neat."
With Michael Pineda and David Phelps the apparent frontrunners for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, Vidal Nuño remains a long shot in what initially was portrayed as a four-man scramble that included Adam Warren, who started Saturday night's game in Panama City.
But Nuño certainly didn't hurt himself Saturday afternoon by throwing four scoreless innings against a handful of Orioles regulars that included Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy, Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis. Nuño allowed only one hit -- a single by Davis -- and struck out three with a walk. In two Grapefruit League starts, he's struck out six in six innings and surrendered one run.
With Nuño mowing through the O's, the Yankees' 2-1 loss took 2 hours, 21 minutes to complete -- a stunning clip for a spring training game. "That's what he does," backup manager Rob Thomson said. "He works fast."
Nuño attributed his success to added confidence and a mostly off-speed array that kept the Orioles off-balance. "I'm not a flamethrower," he said. "I've got to mix in my changeup and cutter. It's going pretty good."
Eduardo Nuñez reported no problems after getting kicked in the thigh on a hard slide by the Twins' Chris Colabello on Friday . . . Brian Roberts went 2-for-3 against his former team and also made a nice play scooping a grounder in front of second base before throwing across his body for the out. Thomson raised eyebrows after the game by calling him "Robby" -- the nickname for Cano -- and later laughed at the reference . . . Thomson praised Kelly Johnson's extra work in getting up to speed at third, where he smoothly handled a couple of grounders . . . The Yankees scored their only run on a homer by Francisco Arcia.
With David Lennon
in Sarasota, Fla.