Rafael Soriano is back in the New York Yankees’ bullpen after 2 1/2 months on the disabled list.
The right-hander had been sidelined since May 14 with inflammation in his right elbow. He was activated from the 60-day DL on Friday before the Yankees opened a four-game series against Baltimore.
"It never crossed my mind that it was going to take that long to come back," Soriano said through a translator, adding that his elbow is pain-free.
New York manager Joe Girardi said he will ease Soriano into action slowly at first rather than thrust him right back into the pressure of an eighth-inning role. Following injuries to Soriano and Joba Chamberlain, All-Star righty David Robertson has become Mariano Rivera’s primary setup man, emerging as one of baseball’s most effective relievers this season.
"Whatever the decision that Joe makes, I will be happy with that," Soriano said. "Mentally, I’m ready to go any inning that Joe needs me. Seventh, eighth, whatever he wants me to do I’ll be ready to do. I don’t think it’s going to be any problem."
To open a roster spot for Soriano, the Yankees optioned left-hander Steve Garrison to Double-A Trenton. Garrison made one appearance for New York, getting two outs Monday night against Seattle in his big league debut.
Soriano signed a $35 million, three-year contract with the Yankees last offseason after saving an AL-best 45 games for Tampa Bay in 2010. But he got off to a disappointing start as a setup man in pinstripes, going 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in 16 outings before the injury.
"We’re just getting him back. We want to make sure that he’s where he’s supposed to be," Girardi said. "It seems like it was a long time ago since we’ve seen him."
In two rehab appearances with Class-A Tampa and two more with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Soriano gave up four earned runs in 4 1-3 innings. He allowed five hits, including two homers, and struck out three without walking a batter.
Back in the clubhouse Friday, Soriano asked the Yankees for a translator when he answered questions at his locker. It was an interesting change because the reliever had addressed reporters in English since joining the club. His commitment to the team was questioned earlier this season following some curious comments about his injury and the New York hitters.
"No excuse. I didn’t do good the first half, and I’ve just got to be ready for the second half," Soriano said. "Whatever happened in the past, I don’t want to think about the past."