Any baseball fan knows that come playoff time, even the smallest minutia take on a galactic importance. And nowhere is this more true than in middle relief. Guys on other teams you may not know much about suddenly become "the key" to winning a shortened series. Just think of the way the Angels used Brandan Donnelly in the 2002 World Series. Donnelly pitched 7.2 innings in the World Series all between the 5th and the 8th innings, building the bridge to F-Rod and Percival.
These are the guys who are asked to eat innings, yet get no credit. They come into games—often in perilous situations, and are told "Keep a lid on this." They are not flashy like closers—no huge fist-pumps—no "Shout-Out" finger-point to God. Just keep the game close until we can get to the big boys in the 8th and 9th.
And that is why I present, that if the Yankees make it far into the playoffs, David Robertson might suddenly become an important cog in the machine.
The Yankees have a closer—Mariano—and they have a solid, shiny new 8th inning guy—Phil Hughes. They have a couple of lefties—Phil Coke, Damaso Marte—and a long guy or two—Alfredo Aceves, Chad Gaudin. What they don't have is a reliable 6th and 7th inning guy who can come in, put out the fire when the starter gets tired, and get the bridge started to Hughes and Rivera.
Over the course of the year, Robertson has excelled in that job. Going into last night's game, Robertson had 61 Ks in 41 IP, leading all AL relievers with a 13.39 K/9 rate. He had a 3.24 ERA this season and was infinitely more reliable for the 7th inning role than the Jekyll & Hyde known as Brian Bruney.
However, the problem with Robertson earlier this month, when Robertson felt pain in his elbow. It got so bad, Yankee fans heard the words every sports fan hates to hear: Dr. James Andrews. However, after fulfilling his prescription of rest and rehab, Robertson pitched last night. He threw 0.2 of an inning and got 1 K. If he's able to pitch at least one more time, and do so effectively, Joe Girardi should take Robertson and plug him into his playoff roster.
Assuming the Yankees take 4 starters as well as Hughes and Rivera, that leaves 4 spots open for the rest of the pen. Girardi stated he'd like 2 lefties, meaning Marte and Coke both make it. Chad Gaudin has been pitching well and should win the long relief spot over Aceves, who seems to have fallen out of favor with Girardi. Which leaves one more spot.
When the Yankees won World Series, Joe Torre had a system designed to get games to the 9th and hand the ball over to Wetteland/Rivera. From 1996 until 2001, guys like Mike Stanton, Graeme Lloyd and/or Ramiro Mendoza worked the 6th and 7th innings reliably, and then handed the ball over to Jeff Nelson, and then to Rivera. It was designed to cut the game short, and it worked effectivly. If the Yankees want to have a similar kind of system, then—assuming he's healthy—they should give the 7th inning over to Robertson. With his exploding fastball with late life, plus power slider and ability to punch out batters, Robertson— has the makeup to be an effective reliever. He deserves the chance to prove it this playoff series.