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When the Rays made it to the World Series in 2008, they didn't run their bullpen according to the book.
Joe Maddon didn't have hard and fast roles for his relievers during that playoff run, choosing instead to pick the best pitcher for each particular spot. That marked a major deviation from the way bullpens have been run since Dennis Eckersley and others made one-inning saves all the rage in the major leagues.
Joe Girardi should take a page from his Florida rival this season as the team deals with the loss of Mariano Rivera. Instead of simply writing another name into the closer spot, Girardi should be open to handling things on a game-by-game basis.
David Robertson is the obvious choice to step into the closer role by virtue of his performance over the last two years. Robertson has been even more effective than Rivera in that span and his style is definitely conducive to the high-wire act that closers have to play.
Judging by the first non-Rivera weekend, Girardi is going to go with Robertson in the ninth inning. He closed out Friday night's win and was warming up on Sunday before the Yankees blew the game open.
Here's the issue with that approach. Robertson's greatest skill as a reliever has been his ability to escape tense situations with runners on base by coming up with huge strikeouts in the late innings.
Why limit yourself to using him only when there are no runners on base to start the ninth inning, then? If Robertson is more useful in the seventh or eighth, Girardi should use him there and then turn to Rafael Soriano for the ninth inning.
That runs counter to the way that bullpens have operated in recent baseball history and the choice has been defended with claims that relievers respond better to defined roles. That may be true, but why not define Robertson's role as the reliever who comes into games when the chance of losing is greatest?
Soriano's presence gives the team a great deal of flexibility. He's closed games in the past and has made it clear in the past that he really likes playing that role, so the Yankees should take advantage of that.
There's also a chance that Manny Banuelos and/or Dellin Betances will be ready to help the bullpen at some point this season. Those young arms would give Girardi even more options when the late innings roll around, something to consider before locking yourself into a set way of doing things in May.
The Yankees will probably go in the other direction, but there's an opportunity to try doing things a different way. It's one the Yankees should take advantage of while Rivera rehabs his torn ACL.