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05/26/11 12:49 PM ET

Yanks' bullpen depth at forefront sans Soriano

NEW YORK -- Ten days ago, an injured Rafael Soriano watched the Yankees lose their sixth straight game in Tampa, Fla., then absolved his fellow relievers.

"To me, I don't think the bullpen [is] the problem right now," Soriano said May 16. "I think it [is] the hitters. [Those] things happen sometimes."

A seven-win-in-nine-game stretch since has proved Soriano prophetic. The Yankees' bullpen has a combined 1.85 ERA over the past nine games, giving up just 20 hits in 24 1/3 innings.

Manager Joe Girardi feels his relievers have been able to patch things together nicely without Soriano, the Yankees' setup man who has been on the disabled list since May 17 and will miss six to eight more weeks with right elbow inflammation.

"The one thing it does do, we used to use three people for two innings, in a sense," Girardi said. "Now it's two people for two innings, and there are days they're going to need days off. I think [Luis] Ayala has stepped up and done a nice job and become that third guy, but it just takes a talented person out of our bullpen."

The Yankees have had two of those in David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain. The duo has pitched a combined eight scoreless innings over the last nine games, with each hurler strengthening his hold on the seventh- and eighth-inning roles, respectively.

"For the last two weeks, we can't look at what it would be like with him, because he's not with us," Chamberlain said of Soriano, who has not pitched since May 13. "All we can hope for is the best -- that he gets back and he's a huge part of this bullpen, to help us and to get healthy and go from there."

Robertson agreed that Soriano's missed, but wasn't letting one less arm change his mindset.

"Of course we would love to have him back," said Robertson. "It's a great added arm, and he's a great pitcher. But as far as him not being here affecting anything, we're just going to try to do our job."

In the meantime, the bullpen has benefited from strong -- and long -- starts from the rotation. CC Sabathia gave up four runs Tuesday but went the distance, and the Yankees have received six quality starts in their last nine games.

The relief corps also received boosts from Ayala and Hector Noesi, the latter striking out four in four scoreless innings during a 15-inning win last Wednesday at Baltimore in his Major League debut.

More impressive is that the game's dominant closer, Mariano Rivera, has pitched just 2 1/3 innings over the nine-game stretch. And he is responsible for one of the five earned runs allowed by the 'pen.

Yet with a $35 million offseason acquisition on the shelf in Soriano, the long-term outlook for the Yankees' bullpen appears less secure, despite its apparent depth.

"What place are we in? It's as simple as that," general manager Brian Cashman said. "It's a team. Ultimately, you do what you have to do. You're going to have injuries, you're not going to want the injuries to come in certain places, but it's a fact and you have to deal with it and you have to turn the page and fight through it. So I think we have people capable of getting us through it and it'd be nice to have all these guys come back and join the party at some point, but they'll only be allowed to if they're healthy. That's it.

"I mean, they want to be out there, they want to be competing, they want to kick some butt for us and the fans and do their part, but they can only be in that position if they're healthy."

Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.