Most Yankee fans are probably beside themselves regarding the recent struggles of Mariano Rivera. Yesterday Rivera entered a 6-2 game with runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out. A mess for sure created by the overrated Cory Wade. Pinch hitter Russell Branyan stepped up and clubbed the first pitch he saw for a 3 run homer on a cutter with no bite. The blast turned an easy win for the Yankees into a nail biter. Rivera would recover and retire the next 2 hitters for his 30th save. A save that ties him with Trevor Hoffman for the all-time record of consecutive 30 save seasons at 14.
The last 3 outings have been troubling for the “Great Rivera.” He blew the save to the Red Sox Sunday night by giving up a double to Marco Scutaro in a game the Yanks lead 2 to 1 in the 9th. A win would have put New York into first place. Rivera gave up a 2 run homer to former teammate Bobby Abreu on Tuesday when he entered a 4-4 tie. Then there was yesterdays’ bomb. It is only the 4th time in Mariano’s illustrious career that he has allowed an earned run in 3 consecutive appearances. The last time was September 2010 (19, 20 and 26). The last time he allowed home runs in consecutive outings was April 24 and 29 of 2009. This does not look good but it is not time to panic. Not yet at least.
How quickly we forget Mo was “lights out” on Friday against the Red Sox striking out 2 in saving New York’s 3-2 win. The hit he gave up was a “Willie Mays Hayes Special” to Carl Crawford that might have led to a 1-2-3 inning if Mark Teixeira scoops out Derek Jeter’s throw. Even Superman had trouble with kryptonite while Rivera’s Achilles heel has been the Angels and Red Sox. His career ERA against those teams is 3.60 and 2.90 respectively compared to his lifetime 2.24 mark. He just flat out struggles against those teams. Against every other team in creation he remains “Mariano the Great.”
Getting out of this little funk for Rivera should be easily correctable. His velocity is great – especially for a 41 year old skinny reliever -regularly averaging 91 to 94mph. As I mentioned here http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/07/04/time-for-mo-to-pull-another-club-out-of-the-bag/ on July 4th Rivera needs another pitch to keep hitters (especially righties) honest. There may be a mechanical adjustment Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild can make with Rivera’s grip on his cutter. Perhaps he could move slightly on the rubber one direction or the other. Joe Girardi can stop bringing Rivera into tie games at home (an area he has struggled in his entire career) Finally, Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli can wake up and call smarter pitches at certain times, in certain counts with the game on the line.
For all the behind the scenes bashing of Jorge Posada’s game calling abilities I am not impressed with Martin or Cervelli - specifically with Rivera on the mound. I don’t know if they are in awe of him or what. Yankee backstops need to correct this immediately as they have been doing the opposite of what should be done in most cases. Sunday night was just stupid on Martin’s part facing Scutaro. People who know and are around the game know you don’t come inside to any right hander in a 1 run game at Fenway Park. If you miss your spot (like Rivera did) bad things are bound to happen. Luck was all that kept that ball from going over the wall. Not even God himself on the mound would have prevented that. Rivera knows better than anyone to pitch away to righties and to tip your cap if you get beat with a long ball to the deepest part of the park. The same mistake was made against Abreu and they came inside when they should have gone outside and got burned. That was even more inexcusable because there were 2 out with a runner on second and a full count. There was a base open and a guy on deck who Rivera owns (Tori Hunter). If Abreu walks you go after Hunter and have force-outs at any base. If Abreu gets a base hit it is a one run game. The best case for going outside is maybe the uber-selective Abreu takes a pitch he thinks is a ball and horrible umpire Chris Guccione rings him up based on his very wide strike zone. The other mistake Martin and Cervelli consistently make seems to be not calling for 4 seam fast balls up and out of the strike zone. Former Yankee catcher Jose Molina was the best at that and Posada did it often as well. Cervelli and Martin need to watch some damn video of past Mariano outings (or seek out Posada for advice) and start calling better pitches or things will get ugly with this team. Rivera has never been a guy who shakes off his catcher. He relies on them to call the game and he executes the pitch.
I know it’s easy for fans to push the panic button when an older player has some bad outings. This is just a rough patch for Rivera and he will be just fine. He is nowhere close to done as long as he is throwing in the low to mid 90’s with movement. If he makes some or all of the above adjustments he is capable of not giving up another run the rest of the year and carrying the Yankees in the post-season as he always does.
About the Author
Written by Brendan Sennott
I was born in the heart of the AL East in the late 70's and am a huge Yankees fan. (Don't hate) I have moved around to a lot of solid baseball markets in my life(Boston, Chicago, Detroit) and was a part-time reporter, producer, blogger, and on air personality for WDFN Radio Sportsradio 1130 The Fan in Detroit. I still live in the "D" and am married with one beautiful 9 month old daughter. My girls are my life. In my media career I've interviewed players, managers and executives in the sport and would love to get back in the business full time. Baseball is my passion. I look forward to shooting straight about the Yanks and M.L.B in my new blog and getting your feedback.