Not every Yankee reliever is subjected to the same pressures — at least not David Robertson, who's being groomed to replace Mariano Rivera in 2014. The Yankees are careful not to burn out Robertson too soon, especially after using him in 70 games in 2011 and discovering how fragile he can be.
The right-hander suffered through a nagging oblique injury in 2012 that, like Sabathia's bone chips, didn't resolve until November. But Robertson soldiered on, even on the days when playing catch before games he felt sluggish and admitted to himself, “I just don't have it.”
“That's when you have to dig deep and find a way to get hitters out, when you're more like 80 percent instead of 100,” Robertson said. “The only times I'm really 100 percent is opening day and the day after the All-Star break. That's where the mental side of pitching comes in, because no one cares how you're feeling, just that you get hitters out.”
Older starters work with a similar deficit. Hiroki Kuroda, for instance, threw 219* innings last year, a career high, and made no pretense about being fresh down the stretch. Being 100 percent was a pipe dream to a 38-year-old: when asked how many of his 33 starts he felt refreshed and pain free, Kuroda, after listening to the question through a translator, held up his right index finger.
“One,” he said.
Yet, Kuroda fashioned an impressive 16-win season, in part because he was able to lie to his senses — that 80 percent is actually 100. That's the other part of “The Code”. When in doubt, deny everything.
Case in point was Andy Pettitte's reaction to the line drive that broke his left fibula on June 27. Pitching against the Indians, Pettitte was unable to avoid the laser off Casey Kotchman's bat. He recalled the pain being so intense, “it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.”
Yet, when Joe Girardi rushed to the mound to ask Pettitte how he was feeling, the left-hander instinctively stonewalled the manager. “I'm fine, I'm fine,” he said.
“I'd been hit by line drives before, so I couldn't allow myself to think something was broken this time,” Pettitte said. “I kept thinking, this is just like any other (line drive). But deep down I knew something was really wrong.”
Pettitte's injury ultimately cost him just shy of three months, although he returned in late September and in time for the playoffs. And this week, in spring training's warm embrace, the veteran says he feels, “just great.”
For now, anyway. Nature and the game's irrefutable axiom will soon have their way: pitching, after all, is like love — it almost always hurts.
MCT Information Services