The last time David Robertson wore pinstripes, he was the successor to Mariano Rivera, as impossible a task as there could be in professional sports. So Tuesday’s return to the Bronx, as just another late-inning stopper in the Yankees’ flexible bullpen, came with a more relaxed fit, as Robertson handled his re-introductory news conference with an easy smile.
“I feel like the new old guy,” Robertson said, referring to the youthful turnover in the clubhouse he again calls home.
No one is asking Robertson to replace Aroldis Chapman. At least not yet. But there could be plenty of times when Robertston — or Dellin Betances or even Tommy Kahnle — will have to sub for Chapman, whose swing-and-miss ability has limited his usual dominance in Season One of his five-year, $86-million contract.
It didn’t come to that Tuesday night in the Yankees’ 4-2 victory over the Reds, but Joe Girardi was forced to be a little more creative than he planned in closing this one out. The manager still went to Chapman, who responded with a perfect ninth for his 12th save, but again failed to record a strikeout.
The issue, however, was with Betances, a once trusted reliever that too frequently sets up for disaster rather than Chapman. Once again, Betances’ missing command of his breaking pitch cost him, and the two walks he surrendered in the eighth innings would have hurt worse if not for Zack Cozart’s sore quadriceps, which prevented him from scoring the tying run on Billy Hamilton’s laser double off Aaron Judge’s outstretched glove.
“It was just one of those days,” Betances said. “I’ve got to put this behind me.”
Problem is, Girardi has more alternatives now, and he won’t have to stick with Betances if the chronic wildness continues. In this instance, the manager summoned Adam Warren with two outs and runners at second and third — an atypical eighth-inning spot for him. But Warren came through with a huge strikeout of Eugenio Suarez.
“I was a little caught off guard,” said Warren, who has stranded 22-of-24 (91.7 percent) inherited runners this season. “You fully expect Dellin to do his thing.”
Brian Cashman certainly didn’t envision trading for a pair of shutdown relievers, but seeing Chapman’s surprising vulnerability nudged him in that direction before he pulled the trigger on last week’s trade with the White Sox. The general manager figured the best way to solve the Chapman problem was to smother it with sheer numbers, leaving the Yankees less reliant on a left arm that had shown more smoke than fire.
Fortunately, Cashman’s efforts to build a deeper bullpen has created a wider safety net that not only extends under Chapman, but Betances as well. Girardi said he wanted to stay away from Robertson Tuesday night, and yet he used Kahnle for only four pitches — to get a pop-up from pinch hitter Scooter Gennett to end the seventh inning with one runner on.
To that point, starter Jordan Montgomery had been cruising, racking up five hitless innings and protecting a 3-1 lead into the seventh. But after a two-out infield single by Adam Duvall, the jumpy Girardi did what he does and removed Montgomery after only 85 pitches.
“That’s why we went and got these guys,” Girardi said afterward.
It was a predictable response. There’s no way Girardi is going to let a starter blow a lead that late with this caliber of relief corps. And he’s right. While Girardi insists that Chapman will remain the closer — how could he not at that price? — he expects to ask the others to pitch in variable circumstances, from the sixth inning on.
Girardi described all four as being “interchangeable,” with closer-caliber stuff, and he raised some eyebrows during the weekend by going to Betances in the seventh inning before using the newly-acquired Robertson to set up Chapman in Sunday’s 6-4 victory over the Mariners. That scenario won’t seem so unusual if Betances keeps having these untimely glitches, especially with Warren and Chad Green at the ready.
“Obviously I want to do the job myself,” Betances said. “But when you have weapons like that, it helps.”
More than that, it saved the Yankees Tuesday night.