Yankees

Keefe To The City: Yankee Bullpen Trust Issues

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Rafael Soriano (credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Rafael Soriano (credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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By Neil Keefe
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When Larry Rothschild walked out to the mound on Tuesday night during the bottom of the ninth inning to “talk” to Mariano Rivera during a rare disaster, I wondered, “What could Larry Rothschild possibly say to Mariano Rivera? What could LARRY ROTHSCHILD say to the GREATEST CLOSER IN THE HISTORY OF BASEBALL?”

No. 42 had this look on his face during the “mound visit” that said, “I don’t need any help or any advice from anyone” while Rothschild and the infield gave him a pep talk. Maybe the visit was just to give Rivera “a breather” like Ken Singleton and David Cone suggested during the broadcast, but really it was just unnecessary.

If it were anyone else on the mound on Tuesday night in Toronto, I would have been on tilt and would still be. Blowing a two-run lead in the ninth inning to the Blue Jays is unacceptable … unless it’s Mariano Rivera blowing the lead. Instead of being mad, I’m just stunned because that’s how infrequently it happens.

Last Thursday at the Stadium after Mariano closed out the game, I asked Sweeny Murti, “What’s going to happen when he really does leave?” Sweeny answered, “You’re probably going to need a team of therapists.” It’s true. I can’t imagine the ninth inning becoming just another inning with just another guy pitching it. I can’t envision anyone other than No. 42 coming out for the final three outs. When I was nine, the closer was John Wetteland and when I was 10 it became Mariano Rivera. It’s been that way since.

When I talked to my dad after the Yankees game on Saturday, I said, “It’s going to be weird if Mariano leaves after his contract is up at the end of 2012.” And he said, “Then the Yankees are going to be like every other team.”

I don’t want to be like every other team. I have seen what it’s like to be every other team. Not from a fan perspective, but I have watched Joe Nathan turn in the keys to the closer role himself for the Twins, the Cardinals pick their closer out of a hat, Red Sox fans turn on their closer last season and in the offseason and the Mets closer fight his family at Citi Field. I don’t want some closer that feels the need to perform the “Electric Slide” or the “Dougie” after a save, or a closer with a beard that makes them look like Yukon Cornelius from the “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” stop motion animation movie.

Once Mariano blew the save on Tuesday night, you knew the game was over. You knew the game was over because Joe Girardi had already used Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson. It meant that Boone Logan, Lance Peddleton and Hector Noesi were the only actual listed relievers left in the bullpen. And when Boone Logan is technically your “best” and most veteran option remaining, well you can just chalk that game up as a loss. But with all the off-days causing chaos in the starting rotation (or whatever the Yankees refer to their five starting pitchers as), Girardi went with Ivan Nova in the 10th inning. Four hitters later, the game was over.

Do I ever want to see Boone Logan in a game? No. Do I ever want to see him in an extra-inning game? Obviously not. But if Boone Logan can’t pitch in close games, and he can’t pitch to lefties, what is he on the team for? Just to say the Yankees have a lefty? It’s like saying you have a ’57 Chevy, but it’s under a tarp in your garage and it doesn’t start.

I ask what Boone Logan’s role is because the game-winning hit came from Travis Snider, who had four hits in his last 40 at-bats. Travis Snider is a lefty. Ivan Nova is a righty. Boone Logan was warming up in the bullpen. Who exactly was Boone Logan warming up to face?

After 15 games, the Yankees are 9-6, which is good enough for first place in the AL East, but in just 9.2 percent of the season, we have seen exactly who Yankees were expected to be: a team with a starting rotation as stable as Josh Hamilton with cash in his wallet and his personal chaperone with the night off, and a team with a strong bullpen that gets relied on too much.

It’s obvious that No. 42 just didn’t have it on Tuesday. It’s going to happen. And when he allows four hits and a walk in the same inning, including a hit to Jose Molina, who I think had one hit during his entire tenure with the Yankees, well you know it’s not his night. Once again, I’m not mad at Mariano. I’m just stunned. But I’m mad at the rotation situation and the fact that Mariano has pitched in 10 of the Yankees’ first 15 games (when he didn’t pitched in his 10th game until April 30 in 2010) because a Yankees starter has pitched seven innings just once in the first 15 games. I’m mad about that.

So, since the bullpen has been used more than it should be and is going to continue to be used like that, I thought now is as good a time as ever to look at the relievers the Yankees have and have had all season and put them in order of most trustworthy to least trustworthy. No. 42 is obviously not listed since he is and will always be the most trusted.

Number 30, David Roberston, Number 30
There’s a reason why I gave Robertson the nickname “David Copperfield”. It’s for performances like Tuesday night against Toronto when he entered the game with the bases loaded and one out and the tying run on third and strikes out the next two hitters to hold the lead and end the inning. It was the game Rafael Soriano blew against the Twins that Robertson came in with the bases loaded and gave up the bloop double to Delmon Young that tied the game. It was the trademark situation for Robertson and he came up short. He never did that in 2009 playoffs with the bases loaded, and he won’t do it again. Well, I’m hoping he won’t do it again.

Robertson has never been good in April, and while his numbers this March/April look strong (6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K), they are a bit sneaky because he had allowed four of seven inherited base runners to score before his two strikeouts on Tuesday night. And since he isn’t Girardi’s seventh-inning guy, or his eighth-inning guy and he isn’t the closer, he is going to be coming into clean up other people’s messes like he did on Tuesday. So, it would be helpful if he had more success with inherited runners.

Number 62, Joba Chamberlain, Number 62
I had to check the date and time on my computer on Tuesday night to make sure it wasn’t 2007. “2007 Joba” was in Toronto in Tuesday night — the same place he debuted in the majors with a bang nearly four years ago — striking out Jose Bautista on four pitches and a nasty 87-mph slider to finish him off. The problem is “2007 Joba” hasn’t always come in to games this season, but when he’s been on, he’s been impressive.

I nearly lost all trust and hope with Joba last year when he was giving up leadoff doubles and throwing batting practice almost every appearance in the summer. But I think I finally began to believe in him again when I accepted that he would never be the guy he was in 2007 (24 IP, 12 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 6 BB, 34 K … LOOK AT THOSE NUMBERS!) again. And I’m OK with that. At least I keep telling myself that.

Maybe a fist pump and a 360 on the Stadium mound and some comments from Goose Gossage on his antics and a week of sports radio dedicated to his celebratory decisions will get some other people back on the Joba bandwagon. For now I’m on it, but I have a window seat incase I need to jump off.

Number 29, Rafael Soriano, Number 29
You should feel more confident about your $36 million setup man coming in to hold leads, but I don’t. I don’t trust Soriano on the mound … yet. It doesn’t mean I won’t. It just means I don’t right now.

It’s one thing when No. 42 doesn’t show emotion on the mound, but he does it in a “Don’t Worry About Me” sort of way. Soriano doesn’t show emotion on the mound, but he does it in a “Whatever” sort of way. I’m not saying Soriano doesn’t care. I’m just saying it doesn’t look like it. And when things begin to go south for Soriano, he slows the game down to a Steve Trachsel pace and walks around the mound like he’s hoping a rain delay will stall the game for him or the hitter will magically be out without a pitch being thrown like Henry Rowengartner in the final scene of “Rookie of the Year”.

Unfortunately I was in attendance for Soriano’s meltdown against the Twins, which was just disastrous, coming in the fifth game of the season. And when he nearly gave away Saturday’s game to the Rangers, I almost had a nervous breakdown. I know that Soriano might not like the cold weather and will come around and probably rip off a serious run of scoreless innings, but it’s hard to earn my trust, and he doesn’t completely have it yet.

Number 48, Boone Logan, Number 48
If this list could go on to a second page, that’s where I would put Boone Logan. On another page all by himself. Logan is the Yankees lefty specialist that can’t get lefties out. He can’t be trusted and has no set role on the team. So, basically he’s collecting a major league check and getting his meal money and traveling with the team like a roadie on tour with Van Halen with all expenses paid for. That’s a pretty nice life

Logan has gone from the only lefty in the bullpen to the guy that no one expects anything from. Nothing at all. It’s the best situation a reliever in the majors can be in. (Expect for that whole you could be sent down at any second thing). If Logan comes into a game and gets outs now it’s, “Hey, was that Boone Logan?” And if he comes in and gets lit up it’s “Hey, there’s Boone Logan!” It’s basically the same emotion for two opposite results. It’s crazy, but Boone Logan has the Yankees and their fans right where he wants them: maintaining a roster spot with no expectations.

Follow Neil on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NeilKeefe

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