David Robertson: New York Yankees Get Their Setup Man Back, Closer Spot Taken

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistJune 13, 2012

David Robertson's first save of the season may have been his last.
David Robertson's first save of the season may have been his last.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

New York Yankees reliever David Robertson is back with the big league team. Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com confirms that the setup man will join the team in Atlanta on Wednesday, although it may be Friday before he is activated.

Robertson confirmed his delight at rejoining his teammates on Twitter:

I'm finally back!!! Never knew I could miss a group of guys so much. Reunited and it feels so goooood!

— David Robertson (@DRob30) June 13, 2012

Robertson hit the disabled list on May 15 with a strained left oblique. He had posted pretty good numbers to that point on the season, including a 2.51 ERA with 24 strikeouts and just six walks in 14.1 IP.

But that was nothing compared to 2011, when he stymied opposing hitters with a minuscule 1.08 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 66.2 IP.

When future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera went down with a freakish knee injury on May 3rd in Kansas City, tearing his ACL and ending his season, the Yankees suddenly had a closer controversy on their hands for the first time in 16 seasons.

Who to choose? Their Houdini-like setup man Robertson, who had such a stellar 2011 season, or megabucks reliever Rafael Soriano, earning $11 million this season to preserve leads in the seventh inning?

Robertson got the first crack at a save opportunity on May 8th against the Tampa Bay Rays. After giving up a hit and two walks, he eked out the save to give the Yankees a 5-3 victory.

"I don't speak French, little man."
"I don't speak French, little man."Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The next evening, he wasn't so lucky.

Relieving Soriano, who had pitched a scoreless eighth, Robertson sought to preserve a precious 1-0 lead against their AL East rivals. He promptly gave up a single, two walks and a sacrifice fly to tie it, followed by a devastating three-run homer to Matt Joyce.

Because Robertson had pitched two nights in a row, Soriano got the save opportunity the next evening. He allowed a run, but converted the save in a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay.

Robertson had just one more appearance, in a non-save situation, before he landed on the DL.

Soriano became the Yankees closer by default, and has happily converted 10 out of 11 opportunities since then. He has allowed just one run in 9.1 IP since notching his first save.

The only blemish on his record was a blown save against the Mets on Sunday, but he was saved from the loss when Boone Logan came on and got out of the inning with the game tied. Russell Martin then hit a walk-off home run to complete the sweep of their crosstown rivals.

On Tuesday night in Atlanta, Soriano recorded his 100th career save. Robertson has four in his five-year career.

Now that "Houdini" is back with the team, he will return to his eighth-inning duties.

As he shakes off the rust, Soriano will continue to close games. And that is the way it should be.

While the Yankees are very fortunate to get Robertson back, he belongs in the eighth inning. Soriano is getting paid like a closer, he has the experience as a closer and he has the unflappable demeanor of a closer.

He wears the same expression whether you were to tell him that he just won the lottery or you just flushed his pet goldfish.

Robertson is the type of dominant reliever that can strike out the side with the bases loaded and no outs. But he is also the type of reliever who might load the bases first. He throws too many pitches to be the closer right now, and he lacks the experience that Soriano has under his belt.

Why should a 27-year-old pitcher like Robertson shoulder the burden of replacing the great Mariano Rivera?

There has been chatter from fans and media (h/t to B/R's Mike Chiari) that the Yankees must look for a closer before the trade deadline. But that is George Steinbrenner talk, not Hal Steinbrenner talk.

If the Yankees' payroll is really going to be under $189 million by 2014, they'll have to learn to win with what they have (h/t to NBCSports.com).

Soriano is 32, and he's being handsomely paid for his efforts. While no one can fill Rivera's shoes, Soriano is undoubtedly the best man in the Yankees bullpen to try it.

Plus, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

UPDATE: WFAN's Sweeny Murti tweets that David Phelps has been optioned to make room for David Robertson's activation. Freddy Garcia can't be optioned without being waived, so there's no room for two long men. Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada have both pitched well while Robertson was on the DL. Phelps' 2012 statistics: 1-2, 2.94 ERA, 29 K, 12 BB. We haven't seen the last of him.