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Soriano returns; what will his role be?

Yankees reliever Rafael Soriano pitches against the Tigers

Yankees reliever Rafael Soriano pitches against the Tigers during the eighth inning. (Mar. 31, 2011) Photo Credit: Chris Ware

The Yankees finally got their former eighth-inning man back Friday. But there's no telling if Rafael Soriano will get the chance to reclaim his role as Mariano Rivera's setup man.

"We're going to work him back slow," manager Joe Girardi said before Friday night's rain-delayed game. "We're not going to throw him right in there . . . We're just getting him back and we want to make sure he's right where he needs to be."

After spending 21/2 months on the disabled list with elbow inflammation, Soriano returned to the Bronx on Friday, determined to be an integral part of the bullpen. But in his absence, David Robertson has become a dominant setup man.

"I'm not sure what the manager is going to do about that situation," Soriano said through an interpreter when asked if he thinks he should pitch the eighth. "I'm happy to come back here and try to help the team, and whatever decision Joe makes, I will be happy with that."

Soriano, 31, refused to discuss his first six weeks in pinstripes, in which he allowed 15 hits and nine earned runs in 15 innings (three fewer earned runs than last season, when he had a 1.73 ERA in 621/3 innings). "No excuse," he said. "I didn't throw good the first half and I just got to be ready for the second half."

To make room for him on the roster, the Yankees sent Steve Garrison to Double-A Trenton and moved Sergio Mitre to the 60-day disabled list.

Girardi cited poor location as the root of Soriano's early-season problems. "It seems like it was a long time ago since we've seen him," the manager said. "He did have some good games for us and did have some good eighth innings, but it usually comes down to location."

Soriano didn't seem to think that was an issue, though. "It never crossed my mind that it was going to take that long to come back," he said, adding that he's pain-free. "The main thing for me was going to the minor leagues and make sure I don't have any pain. So I wasn't concerned about strikes or location or anything like that. 'Cause the problem was pain, not location."

Soriano said Girardi told him he'll be eased back into the mix. "Joe told me he's going to try to take it easy on me, not go too fast, because I don't want to go back to the DL," he said.

But supplanting Robertson may be his toughest challenge. Robertson (3-0) owns a 1.54 ERA, the fourth-lowest among American League relievers, and leads all AL relievers with 65 strikeouts in 41 innings.

"I've been following how he's been pitching and I'm very happy for Robertson because two of the guys that were signed to help the team were on the DL -- [Pedro] Feliciano and me," Soriano said. "So Robertson has picked up where we've left off."

And if he never gets another chance to be the eighth-inning man this season?

"Mentally, I'm ready. I'm ready to go any inning that Joe needs," he said. "Seventh, eighth, whatever he wants me to do, I'll be ready to go. I don't think it's going to be any problem."

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