PHOENIX -- In the American League clubhouse at the All-Star Game, some New York reporters chatted with David Robertson before the start of Tuesday night's game. When the talk turned to the bullpen, Robertson -- who's traveled from the sixth inning to the All-Star Game this year -- praised Luis Ayala's emergence and Boone Logan's recent work before praising Mariano Rivera.
Then a reporter joked, "Are you looking forward to meeting [Rafael] Soriano?"
"Come on," Robertson said with a laugh.
The Yankees need Soriano to "come on" because he could make the difference between a playoff year or a World Series season.
With GM Brian Cashman unlikely to rope in a big-time starter in a trade, the starting staff will only get better internally. The New York Yankees' lineup with Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher coming on, does not have any apparent spots where they should import a big-time bat. The Yankees will likely ride out Alex Rodriguez's injury with Eduardo Nunez at third. Even if they made a trade it won't be for a top-of-the-line third baseman.
This leaves Soriano, who could be back this month, as potentially the biggest addition to this roster. Jo-So-Mo, that first week sensation of Joba Chamberlain to Soriano to Rivera, faded quickly. But a potentially deadly bullpen could be alive again with Robertson's emergence.
So, Ro-So-Mo could be born in the second half.
And Robertson said he's fine with returning to the seventh inning.
"It is not going to be a tough thing for me," Robertson said. "Sori is a great pitcher. We saw what he can do last year. If he comes back, if I get moved to the seventh inning, I get moved to the seventh inning. I'm not going to complain about it. I want to pitch and win. I don't care."
Soriano has had a legitimate injury, but he still has to show his teammates he cares as much as a lot of them. A year ago, Soriano was an All-Star, collecting 45 saves and dominating the AL.
This year, Soriano has been nonexistent as the eighth inning guy. He is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA. He is never around the team and when he is he's not bringing a happy vibe. But that doesn't really matter.
What matters is Soriano on the mound. Soriano has not pitched in two months because of his bad elbow. He is now throwing bullpen sessions and could return fairly soon.
The trade deadline arrives in a little more than two weeks, and the Yankees' starting pitching is unlikely to receive a major boost. The starters who will be available likely won't be any better than Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon.
This leaves Soriano as the best option if the Yankees want to beat the Boston Red Sox. Even with injuries to the starting staff, Boston still has a superior roster, as evidenced by the club's eight wins in nine head-to-head battles.
"We knew coming in to this year, it was going to be a really tough season," Robertson said. "The Red Sox added some big bats in their lineup and some pitching. It is a tougher division, it seems like. It is going to be harder to pull away from teams."
As they'd hoped before the season began, the Yankees could have a dominant bullpen. This could allow their starters to pitch just six strong innings and then turn it over to Ro-So-Mo.
"It always helps when you have No. 42 in the pen," Robertson said.
If the Yankees are going to get to Rivera in October, the bridge to a title may be with the guy no one really knows yet.