As the New York Yankees head into 2011 Spring Training there are serious questions about their starting rotation, their catching and the age of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. There should not, however, be any question about the strength of the Yankee bullpen.
First and foremost, the incomparable Mariano Rivera is still there to close games. Rivera is going to show his age some day, but pundits have been waiting years now for that to happen. Last season he saved 33 games, pitched to an ERA of 1.80 and a WHIP of 0.80. In fact, Rivera has pitched to a WHIP above 1.00 just once in the last six seasons, and that was just 1.12. Incredible!
Rafael Soriano was signed by the Yankees to be Rivera’s primary set up man. If you followed the news throughout the offseason you know General Manager Brian Cashman wanted to pass on Soriano, who saved 45 games for Tampa Bay a season ago, but owner Hal Steinbrenner overruled. Soriano will also provide closing insurance in the event of an injury to Rivera.
Left-hander Pedro Feliciano was also signed. Feliciano, 34, is a lefty specialist who spent eight season with the New York Mets. Feliciano has appeared in 266 games the past three seasons, most in the majors. Yankee fans should get used to seeing Feliciano in games in the late innings to neutralize left-handed hitters.
Joba Chamberlain will be back in the Yankee bullpen despite some calls for him to rejoin the depleted starting rotation. Joba has reportedly gained 10-15 pounds this offseason in hopes it will help him regain some of the velocity that seemed to be missing a season ago.
Right-hander David Robertson should be part of the bullpen. It will be interesting to see whether Robertson or Chamberlain pitches more the higher leverage innings this season.
Boone Logan will be the second left-hander. The hard-throwing Logan did an excellent job for the Yankees in 2010, appearing in 51 games and surrendering just 34 hits in 40 innings.
Sergio Mitre would seem the likely candidate to get the final spot on a 12-man staff, provided he is not in the starting rotation.
There are a few other interesting bullpen candidates. Former Chicago Cubs great Mark Prior is trying yet another comeback and might have a shot if Mitre is a starter or there are injuries. Youngster Romulu Sanchez has a 95 mph + fastball and might push for a spot.