Yankees fans watched in horror last May in Kansas City as Mariano Rivera was lost for the season.
The greatest reliever in the history of the game is back, and as Scott Cacciola writes in his New York Times baseball blog, manager Joe Girardi seemed pleased with what he saw:
“He looked like what you’d expect him to look like, which is a good thing,” Girardi said. He ticked through a list of positive signs. “Delivery, ball movement, the strikes he’s throwing, throwing it where he wants to, not taking a lot of time between pitches. Looked normal to me.”
The next step, of course, will be for Rivera to pitch in a live game.
Normally, Rivera would not see game action until the second half of the spring training schedule, but ESPN's Wallace Matthews reports that the Yankees reliever has different plans this year:
"Maybe another one or two more BPs and I'll be ready (to pitch in a game),'' he said. "I don't know. We have a long time. I'm not trying to rush at all. It felt good to see guys up there again, but the one thing I want to do is get in a real game and see how everything responds.''
What the 2013 season holds for Rivera remains to be seen, but we can take a look at what constitutes a best-case scenario for the closer.
Just Rivera being the same reliever he has always been would be a huge plus for the Yankees
In the five seasons prior to last year's lost campaign, Mariano Rivera averaged 38 saves and posted a 2.00 ERA. During that time, his WHIP was an incredible 0.884 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio averaged seven to one.
Not too bad for a pitcher who celebrated his 43rd birthday in November.
The perfect scenario for both Rivera and the Yankees fans includes the hurler returning to those statistics in 2013.
If he can do so, it would signal the personal achievement of overcoming a devastating injury as well as a successful season for the team.
One more world championship would make a perfect 2013 for Mariano Rivera
Prior to his injury, there was much speculation as to whether or not 2012 would be Mariano Rivera's last season. The reliever had dropped hints to the media that he could retire at the end of the year.
All that changed when his season was lost at the beginning of May.
While his regular-season statistics are incredible, what he has done in the postseason is historic.
In 96 playoff and World Series appearances, he has thrown 141 innings and has 42 saves with an unbelievable 0.70 ERA.
To say that "Mo" rises to the occasion would be the understatement of the year.
Wouldn't it be fitting that the greatest reliever finish his career with a sixth ring? It would be even more appropriate if he was on the mound and recorded one of his trademark broken-bat comeback ground-outs to seal the title.
Instead of running to the mound, Rivera wants to take an outfield spot during a game
Mariano Rivera's injury last season came when he was shagging fly balls near the center field wall in Kansas City. It was a routine that he had become accustomed to, and it is a fairly well-known "secret" that he is one of the Yankees' best athletes.
It is also even less of a secret that he wants to play one inning in the Yankees' center field before retiring.
Both GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi laugh that off given what happened to their stopper last year. In Bryan Hoch's "Bomber's Beat," he quotes Cashman as saying:
“My answer is, you saw what he did. He can’t play center field,” Cashman said, laughing. “The guy is an old man! He blew his knee out!”
Hoch reports Girardi is less definitive, as he offered that the only way Rivera could play an inning in center would be if the Yankees were out of the playoffs and it was late in the season.
One would think that the great Yankees reliever would gladly sacrifice his dream of playing center field if it meant that the team had a chance to win a 28th World Series title.
Both scenarios do mean that Mariano Rivera is back to full strength, and for him and his team, that is a good thing.