TAMPA, Fla. — Already being counted upon to replace a legend in the bullpen, David Robertson of the New York Yankees was asked if he had any advice for the team's next shortstop.
"Obviously, they’re not going to be Derek Jeter," Robertson said. "Whoever takes over, they’ll have big shoes to fill. But it’s kind of the same thing as my situation: I don’t expect to step in and be Mariano Rivera. I’m not. Everyone knows that."
Rivera, likely on his way to the Hall of Fame, saved 652 games and finished 952 — both major league records — before retiring at the end of the 2013 season. Robertson's next save will be the ninth of his career. But if he is being honest about his approach to being Rivera's replacement, Robertson already has gotten past the first barrier to a successful season. He doesn't have to be the greatest closer in history to be great at closing.
"I think I have the abilities to be the closer," Robertson said. "It’s not proven yet. But I know in my heart I can do it."
Robertson hasn't been told by manager Joe Girardi that the ninth inning is his. He'll have to win the job, or just keep it, during spring training. Looking at the team's depth chart, there are no better candidates to close than Robertson. After spending about 3 1/2 seasons setting up the ninth-inning guy in New York, he is as ready as he'll ever be for the challenge of being the man himself.
"I’m going to get the opportunity and I’m going to try to run with it," Robertson said. "That’s the best thing I can tell you right now."
He has the full backing of Rivera, who isn't in an official position to anoint a successor. But Rivera's confidence must mean something to Girardi, even subconsciously. The most recent time he and Robertson saw each other, at a writers dinner during the offseason, Rivera did what he often does. He started making jokes.
"The first thing he says at the dinner, he says: ‘You nervous?’ I’m like, ‘No, the season hasn’t even started — we’re not even in spring yet!’ " Robertson said. "That’s just Mo. He’s been on my case, but in a good way, for the last couple years. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a great learning curve.
"I’m sure he’ll have plenty of advice for me after I blow one, and then he’ll be all over my case about it."
Another difference will be cosmetic. Compared to Mo, Robertson shows a lot of leg in his uniform. (Getty)
There's the buried headline: "Robertson expects to blow save." Rivera did that sometimes. Just infrequently.
Rivera's big pitch, of course, was the cut fastball. Robertson's best swing-and-miss pitch has been a curveball. He wants it to be working earlier than usual in camp, where his approach will be different than in recent seasons. In addition to throwing more breaking balls earlier in the count, showing hitters his change up and going after them inside, Robertson says he's got to cut down on walks. His walk rate has dropped dramatically the past two seasons. He wants it to drop even more.
"That’s going to be the be the biggest thing," Robertson said.
All that's left is for the Yankee Stadium public-address system to play "Sweet Home Alabama" instead of "Enter Sandman" for Robertson's ninth-inning walk from the bullpen. And then for Robertson to get three outs.
Robertson has been to an All-Star game as a set-up man, in 2011. He's got a 2.76 ERA for his career. His strikeout-to-walk ratio trends upward. He's been great at getting outs in the eighth inning. The Yankees need him to do the same thing he's been doing, just a little later in the game.
"It’s going out there and doing a job. To me, it’s not that much different than what I’ve been doing in the eighth," Robertson said. "I just have to make it count in the ninth."
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