Rays-Yankees Preview

While he may not have the efficiency that comes with years of

learning and mastering a craft yet, David Robertson likely has some

time to figure out how to close out games better for the New York

Yankees.

After some nervy moments, Robertson and the Yankees continue

their series against the co-leaders of their division – the Tampa

Bay Rays – on Wednesday night.

The closer’s job in the Bronx had been taken for granted for

nearly a generation with Mariano Rivera, but Robertson inherited

the role when baseball’s all-time saves leader went down with a

season-ending knee injury last Thursday in Kansas City.

The hard-throwing right-hander had his first opportunity in the

future Hall of Famer’s cleats and made things interesting by

loading the bases with two out Tuesday, but Robertson struck out

Carlos Pena to end the game and preserve a 5-3 win for New York

(16-13).

“Tonight I was thinking, `Geez, better not blow your first

one,”’ Robertson said. ”Better not blow your first opportunity or

Mo might come in here and smack me around.’

“I think Mo would’ve thrown 12 pitches and broke a bat and we

would have been out of here 20 minutes ago.”

Robertson threw 25 pitches, three off his season high, and has

been used on consecutive days three times this season. In those

games, he has recorded three scoreless one-inning outings while

fanning five, but also has shown an ability to make out pitches –

Robertson has thrown less than 20 pitches in each appearance.

“The important thing is that David doesn’t try to be Mo, that

David is just David,” manager Joe Girardi told the team’s official

website. “You want to get on a good little run. But he wants to get

on a little run because he wants to win for our club.”

As Robertson tries to hold down a legend’s spot, rookie David

Phelps (0-1, 3.74 ERA) appears to be keeping a place warm for

another from Yankees lore in what likely will be his second and

final turn through the rotation. The right-hander likely will be

bumped since Andy Pettitte is slated to make his season debut

Sunday after working an extended spring training.

Phelps made his first major league start the day Rivera tore his

ACL shagging flies during batting practice, giving up two runs and

six hits in four innings while striking out five in New York’s 4-3

loss at Kansas City. He has been solid in his two long relief

outings at Yankee Stadium, yielding only a solo homer with three

walks and six strikeouts in 8 1-3 innings.

Tampa Bay (19-11) remained tied with Baltimore atop the AL East

with its third straight loss – one off its season high from April

12-15. The Rays went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position –

capped by Pena’s game-ending strikeout – and are 2 for 20 during

their skid.

“We had good opportunities, it just did not work out,” manager

Joe Maddon said. ”We just haven’t been able to do it the past

couple of games.”

Jeff Niemann (2-3, 4.05) will try to be Tampa Bay’s streak

stopper as he seeks consecutive wins for the first time this

season. The right-hander is 0-3 on the road, but the Rays have

provided just four runs for Niemann in those outings.

Niemann matched a season high Thursday with 5 2-3 innings,

giving up three runs and seven hits in a 4-3 victory over

Seattle.

Niemann, though, does seem to like pitching at Yankee Stadium,

where he is 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in four lifetime starts. He limited

the Yankees to one run and six hits in 7 1-3 innings there July 7

in his only start against them in 2011.