Through seven games, the New York Yankees bullpen has only allowed four runs in 17 innings of work. Sporting a dominant 2.12 ERA, and a league best .121 batting average against, the Yankees’ pen is exceeding all expectations. This season, the team is in their first full year without Mariano Rivera since 1995. Now led by closer David Robertson, the Yankees relief corps has been instrumental in the team’s first place start in the American League East. Unfortunately for New York, the bullpen has taken a temporary hit. Following Monday’s home opener, in which Robertson did not come in to lock down a two-run ninth inning lead, manager Joe Girardi announced that their closer was being placed on the 15-day disabled list with a grade-1 groin strain.
At 28 years old, David Robertson has taken over closer duties for the first time in his career following the retirement of Rivera after last season. Just like when others have had to take over for all-time greats, Robertson is open to constant comparisons to his predecessor. As the set-up man for the past several seasons, Robertson has earned a chance to take on the most glamorous relief position on the team. Rivera’s most noteworthy attributes were his year to year consistency, something almost unheard of from a reliever, and his postseason dominance.
While it would be silly to put Robertson on the same plane as the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history, he has been remarkably consistent himself. Robertson is coming off of four straight seasons of 60 or more innings with more than a strikeout per inning, and has a career ERA of 2.74. He has yet to act as a closer consistently, with only 10 career saves including the pair he has picked up this year. However, he has displayed his mettle under pressure in the postseason, with 17 strikeouts in 17 innings to go along with a 3.71 ERA.
Shawn Kelley, who closed out the team’s home opener win with a perfect ninth, is expected to pick up the bulk of the closer duties while Robertson is out. The save was actually the very first of Kelley’s career, which began in Seattle before he arrived in New York last season. The veteran reliever brings good strikeout numbers to the table, important from a reliever, but can frustrate with too many walks. He should see a few more opportunities while the team awaits Robertson’s return.
Wednesday, April 9, is Robertson’s 29th birthday. He is going to have to spend it on the bench, but his stint on the disabled list is not expected to be a long one. The team and fans will soon finally get to see how he handles taking over for Rivera for an extended time. With the construction of the roster, the team really needs consistent help from the bullpen. Robertson, who was an all-star and even received Cy Young and MVP Award votes in 2011, is expected to be the anchor of a team in transition. If things really go according to plan, the New York Yankees will not have to worry about who will be finishing games for them for a long time.
Commentary by Brian Moore