Let me offer you a thinly-veiled comparison between two pitchers.
Pitcher A: 55 G, 55.2 IP, 1.78 ERA, 41 H, 9 BB, 61 K, .199/.233/.316
Pitcher B: 31 G, 39.1 IP, 1.14 ERA, 22 H, 10 BB, 48 K, .162/.218/.204
Bite your tongue if you picked Pitcher B over Pitcher A. Don’t tell Yankee fans that, in this admittedly tiny sample size, Phil Hughes’ numbers look, if not a little bit better than Mariano Rivera’s, just as good as Mo’s. Just don’t.
News broke after the game last night that the Sandman is out with a sore left groin. While I’m holding my breath, Rivera isn’t too concerned. “That’s good, because it’s not my pushing leg,” Rivera said of his left leg. “You don’t want to have that kind of injury, especially in your legs, but it’s nothing we’re worried about. We will take care of it and work at it. Everything will be fine.”
The Yankees, enjoying their 7.5-game lead over Boston, plan to take it slow with Mo. We saw a glimpse of that strategy last night. With the Yanks holding to a two-run lead, Joe Girardi altered the pattern. Brian Bruney pitched some of the 8th, and the Phils joined him. Mr. Hughes stayed in for the final three outs of a blow out, and due to the intricacies of baseball’s rule book, he walked away with his second save of the season. It probably won’t be his last.
According to Girardi and Rivera, Mo first felt the pain in his leg while the Yanks were visiting Seattle a few weeks ago, but it had subsided. It came back on Tuesday night after Rivera appeared in his second straight game. It seems as though every year, Rivera goes through a slight malady. This one is a little late in the season for my tastes, but the Yanks are downplaying the injury. “I don’t even know if I would call it a strain,” Girardi said. “So you just kind of give him a few days and see if he can get rid of it. We’ll get it right, get him healthy and make sure it’s 100 percent.”
For the weekend as the Yanks head to Toronto, Rivera won’t pitch. “It’s a concern for you to run him out there,” Girardi said. “We don’t want to hurt him. We’ll probably give him a few days off and see if we can nip it.”
In his stead, then, the Yanks’ closer will be Phil Hughes. And you know what? I have no problem with that. As Hughes’ numbers show, he has been more than up for the task this year out of the pen. He has allowed one double, one triple and one home run while giving up 18 singles in 31 innings. His strike-out numbers are off the charts, and while he can’t quite match Mariano in the control department, that 4.80 K/BB ratio is right in line with Mo’s 2005 season.
So now, the Yankees will use the luxury of the lead to their advantage. The expanded rosters provide them with added bullpen depth, and the emergence of Phil Hughes as a force gives them, in effect, a second closer. He hasn’t wilted under pressure and wants the ball every day. Phil might run into a hiccup at some point this season, but after watching him mow down the Orioles in the 9th last night, I can sleep easy with the game in his hands.
Still, get well really soon, Mo. I want a seven-inning game come October.