While Yankees fans continue to question Rafael Soriano's toughness, Joe Girardi's faith hasn't wavered. The manager said Wednesday that the righthander will continue to be the bridge to closer Mariano Rivera.
"His command is very good," Girardi said of his eighth-inning guy. "Has it been a little off? Yes. But I don't make too much of that because they live on such a fine line anyway. I believe the command is going to be there, I believe his velocity is consistently going to be there. I think this guy's going to consistently pitch well for us.
" . . . There's something in my heart that tells me this guy's going to be real effective for us."
The problem is, Soriano has been anything but reliable. His numbers are dreadful. The former Rays closer has allowed nine earned runs in only 11 appearances after giving up 12 all of last year (64 games). He also has eight walks, compared with 14 last season.
The righthander had his first blown save of the season Wednesday night, when Paul Konerko hit a two-run home run in the eighth inning of a 3-2 White Sox win. But Girardi believes Soriano is just "too good of a pitcher not to get on track."
Though his ERA stands at 7.84, Girardi said the only way to ease Soriano's transition to his setup role is to continue using him. "He's still my eighth-inning guy," Girardi said. "Yes, he's had a tough month, there's no doubt about it."
After previous poor outings, Soriano said his struggles stemmed from making a tough adjustment to a new role. Last season, he saved a league-high 45 games. But Girardi didn't seem too concerned that Soriano's issues may be mental.
"At least he's trying to face it," said the manager, who added that Soriano is a passionate guy who takes pride in his work. " . . . He's going to be a huge part of this bullpen."
Although Girardi said he can't speak from experience, he assumes there is a difference between pitching in the eighth and the ninth.
"When you feel like you have nobody behind you, it might be a different feel," he said. "If I were to equate it, maybe it's like kicking a field goal in the third quarter and kicking a field goal with two seconds left on the clock."
And for some, playing in New York isn't easy.
"It's the expectation going into every season," Girardi said. "It's a different feel here than other places . . . You walk into our clubhouse and you have a bad day and there are 30 [media] people at your locker, that's a different feeling than at other ballparks.
"Some players have a hard time because I think it can become mental."