TAMPA, Fla. -- It appears that for the New York Yankees, replacing Mariano Rivera will not just be difficult. This spring, it has proven to be impossible.
After wrestling with the decision to anoint either Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller as the Yankees closer this season, Joe Girardi made it official Friday morning before the final spring training game at Steinbrenner Field: He will have two closers. Or, none at all, depending on your point of view.
Asked point blank if he planned to announce a closer, Girardi gave a one-word reply: "Nope."
His plan is to alternate them according to who the opposing team will send to the plate in the ninth inning, Since Betances is a right-hander and Miller a lefty, Girardi will have to make his decision late in the game based not only on the opposing lineup, but potential pinch-hitters. But Girardi seems to be looking forward to his little game of in-game Stratego more than the prospect of entrusting either Betances or Miller with the job, since neither has had a very good spring.
"I really think that if you do it that way and as long as you’re prepared, it has a chance to be advantageous to you," Girardi said. "My thought has been more like with a power lefty who strikes out a lot of guys and a power righty, the lineups just might match up where one day he’s the eighth-inning guy and then one day he’s the ninth-inning guy a little bit better."
Betances, who made an impression last spring with his deadly mixture of mid-to-upper 90s fastball and knee-buckling knuckle curve, has been rather ordinary this spring, allowing a run in five straight appearances before throwing a scoreless inning in Thursday's game. Disturbingly, his fastball velocity has been down, and he has struck out only six batters while walking five in 7-1/3 innings this spring. His ERA is 6.14.
Miller has been somewhat better, with a 2.57 ERA with eight strikeouts and two walks in seven innings, but like Betances, he has never been a closer. Each has one career save.
The arrangement will require both to be ready to pitch late in games without knowing precisely when. For Rivera's 18 seasons as a closer, that was never an issue, and Girardi is a manager who admittedly likes to slot relievers into set roles. The closest Girardi will come to that this year is saying that Betances and Miller will pitch the 8th and 9th innings, with the order to be determined on a game-by-game basis.
"I’ve talked to both guys, and they’re concerned about winning more than titles," Girardi said. "Neither is concerned with, 'I’m this guy, I’m that guy.' That’s the sense I’ve got from them. Now, could it iron itself out and you start to do it one way? Yes. But as of right now, we haven’t felt that we have to."