Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Four-Leaf Closer: Mariano Rivera Starts Strong on St. Patrick’s Day

St Patrick’s Day is a celebration filled with green top hats, clovers, leprechauns, pots of gold, and plenty of Guinness for those over 21.

The Yankees received none of this, but were able to follow up four dominant innings by CC Sabathia with the debut of their best “re-leaf” pitcher.

Rivera’s entrance was exactly what we would all expect from a man whose only weaknesses are kryptonite and Edgar Martinez.

Coming off of “minor shoulder surgery”, which should be a term outlawed when referencing pitchers, Rivera was nothing short of spectacular.

He cruised through a 1-2-3 inning while collecting two strikeouts, looking prepared to close the first save opportunity at the new Yankee Stadium.

More importantly, Rivera was clocked anywhere from 90-92 MPH on most pitches. He is still building arm strength, and a velocity in the vicinity of last year’s during his first outing is fantastic.

Rivera’s mechanics were smooth as always, proving that he did not need to overexert himself to reach the 90s.

Although Sabathia may not allow Rivera to finish some of his games this season, it was exciting to see the two pitch back-to-back.

They are both strike throwing machines, without being wild within the strike zone. They can spot their fastball virtually anywhere they want, and will rarely go deep into counts.

It is Sabathia’s ability to control his pitch count that may lead to a few extra days off for the Yankees immortal closer.

Rivera is the lifeblood of the Yankee pitching staff, and has been for a decade. Any re-injury of his pitching shoulder could result in a lost season for New York.

However, the Yankees contingency plan in the event of losing Rivera is seemingly set in stone.

Citing three Yankee officials, the New York Post reported that Joba Chamberlain would again vacate his rotation spot to play savior.

Although it is the logical response following two untouchable years in the bullpen, it is interesting to attempt to dig into the Yankee mindset.

Does this mean that Joba will permanently become the Yankees closer once Rivera retires in a few seasons? Would an eventual trade or free agent signing be their preferred path?

There is one more inquiry that is even more intriguing.

Would the Yankees thrust Joba back into the rotation if AJ Burnett, Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang, or Andy Pettitte also missed any significant time?

Joba needs to know where he stands.

He needs to be confident once and for all whether he is destined to be the next Curt Schilling or Mariano Rivera. He needs to know if he is a starter or a closer.

Joba is a starter heading into 2009, and Rivera knows it is up to him to keep it that way.

“Mo” has never let us down before, and he does not see a reason to start now.

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