How the Yankees' Bullpen Roles Change with David Robertson on the DL
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As April has turned into May, the New York Yankees have been hit with a rash of injuries which have forced manager Joe Girardi into piecing together the starting lineup on an almost-daily basis.
In spite of those setbacks, the "Bronx Bombers" have managed to remain within one and a half games of the American League East Division-leading Baltimore Orioles.
Part of the reason for their success has been the team's bullpen. In riding superb starts to the young season by David Robertson, Cory Wade, Rafael Soriano, and Boone Logan the team has been able to weather injuries to the likes of Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, Michael Pineda, and Nick Swisher.
In short, the bullpen has been the reason the New York Yankees remain in striking distance to the front-runners.
With news that Robertson has been placed on the 15-day disabled list after experiencing soreness in his rib cage/oblique area for the better part of the last three days, questions arise as to what the stint on the DL for the 27-year-old means to the rest of the relievers.
RHP David Robertson placed on 15-day DL with left oblique strain; RHP Cody Eppley recalled from SWB: atmlb.com/JeP6BE— New York Yankees (@Yankees) May 15, 2012
A closer look at the 'pen reveals that the team may be able to survive yet another star losing playing time to injury.
Can Rafael Soriano step into the closers role for the Yankees?
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In 2010 Rafael Soriano had 45 saves, a 1.73 ERA, and was selected to the All-Star team as a Tampa Bay Ray.
He's been there, and done that.
His experience as a closer will now be put to valuable use with David Robertson potentially having a stay on the disabled list.
Signed before the 2011 season, many thought that Soriano would be the eventual successor to the great Mariano Rivera. Those expectations were dampened with a disappointing year as he battled injury and control issues (averaging 4.1 walks per nine innings pitched) in knocking himself out of contention for the closer role with a 4.12 ERA.
2012 has re-opened the ninth inning window for the former Ray, as Robertson's own struggles in that frame—as well as his current health issues—have allowed Soriano to give the New York Yankees a glimpse into what he could be (and once was).
In two save situations, Soriano has thrown a total of 27 pitches—22 for strikes—in retiring six of eight batters, and converted both opportunities into saves.
With Robertson down for some undetermined length of time, the closer role is Soriano's to lose. With performances like his recent two outings, it may very well remain his for the rest of 2012.
Is Boone Logan going to be an eighth inning regular with D-Rob down?
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Over his past 6 1/3 innings pitched, Boone Logan has walked one batter and yielded six hits. More importantly, he has not allowed a run, and has lowered his ERA from 2.89 to 2.30.
The loss of David Robertson for an extended period of time will mean that the eighth inning job in manager Joe Girardi's bullpen is available.
Normally brought in to retire left-handed batters, Logan's most recent appearances show that Girardi is willing to let him start and complete full innings. In fact, he has gone at least one inning in five of his last seven showings.
Obviously he has responded well to his manager's confidence, and it may be an indication that the southpaw is evolving into an expanded role—that of the bridge to the closer.
Wade has been a pleasant surprise for the Bombers
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Cory Wade has perhaps been the nicest surprise in the New York Yankees bullpen.
The 28-year-old right-hander was signed in June of 2011 following his release by the Tampa Bay Rays, and it has been a signing the Yankees have not regretted.
Wade finished last season going 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA in 40 appearances for New York.
This season has been even better for the former Los Angeles Dodger, as in 17 innings pitched he holds a 1.59 ERA and phenomenal 0.882 WHIP. He has struck out 20 batters and has yet to give up a home run, making him one of the most consistent Yankee relievers.
With David Robertson out due to injury, it is not out of the realm of possibilities that Cory Wade will be used as the eighth inning bridge to closer Rafael Soriano. At the very least, he will be utilized as the right-handed platoon opposite Boone Logan.
Either way, it appears that Cory Wade's importance to the Yankees only continues to grow.
Clay Rapada may see his role expand
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31-year-old journeyman reliever Clay Rapada has been primarily used whenever New York Yankee manager Joe Girardi's binder has deemed it the proper situation.
To that end, the results have been average at best.
In 10 innings pitched (over 17 appearances), Rapada has thrown for a 3.60 ERA and a less-than-respectable 1.600 WHIP.
With the bullpen ranks thinning (especially with Robertson losing some significant time), Rapada is going to have to improve his performance because the Yankee manager may call upon him for an expanded role.
If Boone Logan and Cory Wade are looked to as the eighth inning guys, that will leave the hurler as the man Girardi could call on in the seventh inning to get more than one batter out.
In that scenario, the current .333 batting average that right-handed hitters hold against Rapada just isn't going to cut it.
Losing David Robertson for any amount of time leaves many in the New York Yankees bullpen holding their futures with the club in their own hands. Perhaps none has more at stake than Rapada, as at his current performance level it may be more appealing for the club to call another pitcher up from Scranton-Wilkes Barre to fill the role of seventh inning reliever than it is to use the side-arming hurler.
Most importantly for Rapada, he has to bounce back from a recent injury of his own and prove he is good to go when the Yankees need him most.