Joe to pen: ‘Be ready when I call’

You hear a lot these days about players wanting to know their roles. To an old timer like Don Zimmer, the situation is amusing. Zim once told me a story about what he told a pitcher who asked him what his role was.

“I said to him, ‘Well, you go out to the bullpen. If the bullpen coach gets a call from me for you to warm up, you start warming up. When I signal for you, you leave the bullpen and come into the game. Once you get into the game, get some batters out. That is your role.’ ’’

I was thinking about that Tuesday when I heard Yankees manager Joe Girardi’s response about how he would use his bullpen now that David Robertson became the second Yankees closer to go on the disabled list. When Mariano Rivera went down with a knee injury that will require surgery, Robertson inherited the closer job, but he has been hurting since he last pitched Friday night. Tests Monday revealed a strained left oblique, which could shelve Robertson for a period longer than the minimum 15 days.

So Rafael Soriano will now handle the closing duties, which he did successfully Monday night with his second save of the season. Soriano is an old hand at this. In 2010, the year before he signed as a free agent with the Yankees, Soriano led the American League in saves with 45 (in 48 opportunities) for the Rays.

With Rivera and Robertson disabled, the Yankees’ ideal late bullpen situation of using Soriano in the seventh inning, Robertson in the eighth and Rivera in the ninth is out the window.

“I don’t have an eighth-inning guy anymore,” Girardi said. “I have a ninth-inning guy and then I’ve got a lot of innings.”

And how will the other relievers fall in line.

“Just pitch when I call you; that’s it,” Girardi said, sounding very much like his former mentor, Mr. Zimmer.

Girardi put down speculation that Phil Hughes, who has considerable experience as a reliever, might have to come out of the rotation to shore up the bullpen. Girardi likes the way Hughes has pitched lately with two straight victories and doesn’t want to mess with it. Besides, Ivan Nova may be unable to make his next start after sustaining a bruised right foot and sprained right ankle Monday night so Girardi doesn’t want to pull his rotation apart for the sake of the bullpen.

What this situation may result in is Girardi going a bit longer with his starters. He had the ideal starter for that Tuesday night in CC Sabathia, who pitched eight innings in each of his previous four starts.

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