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Closer: Mariano Rivera
Understudy: Rafael Soriano
Lurkers: David Robertson
It's hard to believe the Bombers will strip Rivera of his job on a permanent basis, but maybe they should start considering giving him more days off if this recent pattern continues. He has yielded at least one run in each of his last three appearances: Sunday's blown save against the Boston Red Sox, and his Tuesday loss and Thursday save against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Last night, he recorded the final two outs after coughing up a tater on his first offering, but he has yielded a homer in each of his last two contests.
The 41-year-old has long been considered bionic, rightfully so, but he's looking less like Skynet and more like John Connor. Mo hinted at feeling human after a July 3 blown save against the New York Mets, and he missed a few days after that. He admitted to accepting reality that arm soreness will probably bug him for the rest of his waning career, especially at his age. This undoubtedly strips some power off his cutter, the Louisville Slugger grenade of bats and, for a long time, the hammer of the pitching gods.
Fatigue, soreness, age - all of these can easily remove a smidge of the late movement that defines Rivera's chief pitch. Though he has regained some K punch that he lost last year, pitch location statistics and graphs show his cutter is hanging just a bit more over the inside corner against left-handed batters. He's allowing fewer grounders to those hitters and is not hurling as much juice on two-strike counts.
He's a vet, basically considered the greatest closer of all time, and we have seen him rebound from these rough stretches before. Rivera has pride in his abilities, even as his body becomes less forgiving, and won't take kindly to losing more games and save chances. On the other hand, maybe he could use a spell to keep him effective for the postseason; Soriano and Robertson could do that if needed.
Is he hiding an injury or just pitching through more arm issues? All in all, how much longer can we keep writing off these issues as bumps in the road? Even if you have complete faith in No. 42 - which isn't unfounded - you need to consider he may be starting to slip.
Though Robertson has been the eighth-inning man for most of the season and has the skills to do it, Soriano would be the sub here thanks to his stopper experience (and his contract). The latter has given up just one hit while whiffing five in six scoreless frames since coming off the DL.
The beginning of the end? In our job security score, he'll get the benefit of the doubt for now, but he'll warrant a drop from his 5 if his struggles persist. Let's wait to see how Rivera responds; The Pitch is still effective, and those clubs that got to him are very familiar with him and have proven they can hit him.
However, is this rough patch enough to - gasp - spark speculation on Soriano, or Robertson as a consolation? If you're desperate and have roster room, it's better to tuck away a potential Yankees closer, even if it's merely in spot duty, than to let someone else get the jump.
Job security score: 5
Health score: 5
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