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Yankees' Robertson glad to have Rivera's endorsement

The SportsXchange

The New York Yankees had an eventful few days in Panama in mid-March, celebrating the career of retired closer Mariano Rivera and letting him show them around his homeland.

Aside from getting no hits in one of their two exhibition games against the Miami Marlins, the Yankees also experienced a symbolic moment for their 2014 team and beyond. Baseball's all-time saves leader threw out the ceremonial first pitch to David Robertson, the former teammate now entrusted with replacing the best closer in history.

"Just passing the torch," the 44-year-old Rivera said afterward. "Knowing that you're having an end and a beginning, it's wonderful that it happened in my hometown.

"It was a lot of fun. This is definitely a different experience,"

Robertson told the New York Daily News. "You can tell the fans are excited to be here, excited to see Mo. To be able to catch his first pitch was pretty awesome. Not too many people can say they did that."

Rather than sign a proven closer during their nearly $500 million offseason spending spree, the Yankees turned over the job Rivera owned since also being promoted from the setup man role in 1997 to the 28-year-old Robertson.

The hard-throwing righty emerged as one of the game's best setup relievers over his six seasons with the Yankees, posting a 2.76 ERA and an eye-popping 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings over 339 career appearances.

However, the Alabama native has just eight career saves, and you never know how a pitcher will handle the ninth inning until he is asked to do it regularly.

From Metallica's "Enter Sandman" to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" as the new entrance music, the Yankees are about to find out.

"I've tried to soak up all the knowledge I can from (Rivera). He's shown me a lot over the years," Robertson told the Wall Street Journal.

"It's good to know that he believes I can do it. I believe I can do it, and it's nice to know that someone who's got 600 saves thinks that I have the capabilities to do it."


--OF Jacoby Ellsbury, the Yankees' new $155 million center fielder, was injury-prone throughout his career with the Red Sox. Thus, he took no chances when he felt a right calf strain during camp, sitting out a second straight Grapefruit League game March 18 against his former Boston teammates. He wasn't expected to play until March 21 at the earliest. "Just something I want 100 percent before I step on the field," Ellsbury said. "It's not one of those things where I try it on the field and see how it is. I'll know when I'm on that field that it's already 100 percent."

--RHP Michael Pineda emerged as the clear front-runner for the Yankees' No. 5 starting job with an impressive spring after missing the past two seasons following right shoulder surgery. The 25-year-old, acquired from Seattle in 2012, allowed no runs and struck out five in 4 1/3 innings (60 pitches) in a March 18 start against Boston. He tossed nine scoreless innings in his first three outings. "It doesn't look like a guy that's coming back from a serious injury," manager Joe Girardi said. "I think he's getting stronger when he goes out. I think his command was better today -- a lot better than the other day. Another good step for him."

--LHP CC Sabathia had to go all the way to Panama to rediscover his mojo after an alarming start this spring. He tossed five no-hit innings against Miami on March 16 in the second game of the Yankees' visit to retired closer Mariano Rivera's native country. Sabathia, who admitted that he "sucked" in his previous outing, retired 15 of the 16 Marlins he faced. "As critical as I was of myself last time, I don't want to get too excited about pitching well," Sabathia said. "It is still spring training and I'm still working on stuff. I was just frustrated last week. This feels good, to go out and put this behind me. I have two starts left. I'll be ready for April 1."

--SS Brendan Ryan knows he might be the most-booed backup in baseball this season. Whenever he is manning shortstop for the Yankees, it will mean retiring icon Derek Jeter is not. "It's a slippery thing," Ryan told the New York Post. "I relate to the fans a lot. I still pinch myself. Here I am: I'm insurance to THE Derek Jeter. That's pretty special. It's something I'll tell my kids about. Whether there's a tremendous amount of glory or not, I think the experience will be super, super special. Something I'll never forget."

--1B Mark Teixeira believes his surgically repaired right wrist, which limited him to 15 games last season, passed every test this spring. "No problems. I haven't had any problems all spring," Teixeira said. "I feel good, I feel really good. I told you guys, I feel really good about my wrist. I feel like it's getting stronger and it will continue getting stronger all year. And that's the exciting part. It's not like this is as good as it's going to get. It'll keep getting stronger all year."

--3B Kelly Johnson will start out the season as the primary replacement for suspended 3B Alex Rodriguez, even though he played only 16 previous games at the hot corner in his big-league career. The converted second baseman is taking a crash course every day during spring training with infield coach Mick Kelleher, according to the New York Daily News. "I think he's going to do a good job," manager Joe Girardi said of Johnson. "I've liked what he's done. I don't really have a lot of concerns about it."

--LHP Manny Banuelos, a former top prospect working his way back from Tommy John surgery, was optioned to minor league camp March 16, but he is shooting for a call-up to the Yankees at some point this season. "I think I'm going to make it if I stay healthy," Banuelos said. "I think it's the best thing. Like they say, I've got to make progress. ... It's about time and about comfort. Go to the minor leagues -- I don't know if I'll start in Double-A or Triple-A, whatever, just keep pitching. Get all my pitches to where I can help the team."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Just do a line of honey out to the parking lot (and) the bees would maybe follow it and leave us alone." -- 1B Mark Teixeira on the Yankees' game against the Boston Red Sox on March 18 being delayed for seven minutes by a swarm of bees.

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