02/14/09 4:00 PM EST
Rivera, Posada taking it slow
Longtime batterymates working their way back from surgery
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
One-half of the so-called "old-guard" -- active players who can still show off Yankees World Series rings -- has entered this spring on rehab. The reports on Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera are good, and for the Yankees to reach their full potential, they must stay that way.
New York believes Posada will be its Opening Day catcher and that Rivera will be available to close out the club's first save situation of the season, but until the Yankees get to April 6, there is just no way to know for sure.
"Jorgie is an extremely, extremely hard guy to replace," manager Joe Girardi said. "We're really excited about where he's at. We've got to take it slow and make sure that when we put him in a game, he's ready to go and the strength is there."
Posada was limited to just 51 games last season, undergoing arthroscopic surgery in July to repair a weakened right shoulder that opposing clubs took advantage of. He said that the surgery was scheduled with Spring Training in mind, and after another 90 tosses Saturday and 140 on Friday, Posada has still not felt any pain throwing or hitting.
"It's a relief. It's been a tough year, pretty much rehabbing the whole year and trying to get it stronger," Posada said. "Obviously, after you get the surgery, you've got to get the strength back up again. I'm very happy and very positive with the things that are coming. Every time I throw, I feel improvement."
Girardi has said that he believes Posada will be able to catch 110-120 regular-season games in a best-case scenario, a path he can begin to travel when Posada actually begins catching in games midway through March. The 37-year-old veteran is shooting even higher.
"I think if everything holds up and everything feels fine, it will be more than that," Posada said. "I want it to be more than that."
The plan is that the Yankees will need only two catchers to open the season, but it also might not be a complete surprise if 31-year-old Kevin Cash makes the roster as a third backstop behind Posada and Jose Molina. Posada said that he will catch CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett in the bullpen this spring to gain familiarity, even if it is not in game action.
"You think about physically what it takes to catch every day, to bounce back," Girardi said. "I don't know about [Posada in] day games after night games. Catching is a lot of throwing, and all of a sudden, you really have to exert yourself on a couple of throws a day. That is a concern, but I feel good about where he's at."
The early reports are similarly positive on Rivera, even though the 39-year-old closer has not tested his surgically repaired right shoulder off a mound, and is even looking to pump the brakes a few more times on his methodical Spring Training program.
|"If I was worried, I would have taken care of it before. I wasn't worried at all. It did allow me to pitch. It was painful, but I did it."|
|-- Mariano Rivera|
"It will be there," Rivera said. "I don't have those thoughts in my mind. When I go on the mound, I know that everything is going to be there. And if it's not there that day, I know the next day it's going to be there."
Rivera had a procedure in October to remove a calcification on the AC joint of his pitching shoulder -- the result, he believes, of years of throwing. He said it produced a noticeable lump when he would examine himself in the mirror.
But even with a new bump jutting under his uniform top, Rivera said there was never any fear.
"If I was worried, I would have taken care of it before," Rivera said. "I wasn't worried at all. It did allow me to pitch. It was painful, but I did it."
Untrained observers could not have had any idea, as Rivera's results hid whatever troubles he was having. He turned in one of his best all-around seasons for the Yankees in 2008, converting 39 of 40 save opportunities and posting a 1.40 ERA.
Behind the scenes, Rivera said that he was popping medicine just to get to the bullpen. Rivera was bothered most in the season's late months, depending on how many consecutive days he pitched. Even with his shoulder aching, Rivera refused to shut his year down until the Yankees were officially eliminated from the postseason chase.
"The one thing I think Mo has always been able to do is block out some of the things that are on the periphery," Girardi said. "You look at what he's been able to do and how long he's been able to do it, it's absolutely incredible."
Girardi said that he expected Rivera would only pitch eight to 10 Grapefruit League innings this spring. Rivera said that he would adjust to a lighter workload, as New York's lengthy spring schedule affords a little more flexibility. The relaxed duties could seep into the regular season.
"He was pretty much a one-inning guy for us last year, and we'll try to do that again," Girardi said. "That's extremely important. We don't want to overtax him and ask your closer to get you four or five outs very often. Every once in a while, it's a necessity, but coming off a surgery, there are concerns there. You don't want to ask too much."
Rivera said that he has been playing catch and gradually increasing his distances and velocity, saying that the shoulder "feels great." But Rivera has not really amped up his throws, and until he saddles up in a bullpen session, he won't know exactly what he is working with.
Should Rivera not be available, Girardi cringes at the thought of a bullpen-by-committee, which is where the Yankees would be headed. Likewise, Rivera refuses to consider the possibility that what he has left could not be enough to get by.
"Those thoughts never cross my mind," Rivera said. "I know that I'm not going to be throwing 97 or 98 [mph]. But if I throw 94 or 95 [mph] and I hit my spots, I'm fine with that."
With Brian Bruney and Damaso Marte leading the pack of candidates for setup roles, Rivera is also paying some attention to the fresher faces in camp, knowing that one of those talents roaming the clubhouse may grow into the man that eventually displaces him as the closer.
"The end is coming -- sooner or later, it's going to come," Rivera said. "That's why I don't worry about those things. The end is going to come. Only God knows when it comes. But I'll give it my best, whatever I have left."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.