Saturday, March 21, 2015


Rivera visits spring training, March 2015-Daniel Barbarisi

3/19/15, "Yankees’ Relievers Learn Plenty at the School of Mariano," Wall St. Journal, Daniel Barbarisi, Tampa, Fla.

"The pitcher with the most influence in the Yankee bullpen doesn’t pick up a ball, unless he feels like it. He’s past that point now, though he is sure that if he needed to, he could still baffle big-league hitters with his famous cut fastball.

“Every pitch,” Mariano Rivera said, with the easy confidence that comes with being universally considered the greatest closer in baseball history.

Rivera, 45, has been retired since 2013, and his well-schooled heir, David Robertson, has already left New York in free agency. But even 18 months removed from his last major-league pitch, Rivera’s mark on the Yankees’ bullpen is unmistakable, part of a legacy that the remaining relievers now try to pass down from year to year.

His methods, techniques and words of wisdom are everywhere. The relievers preach a level-headed approach they say came directly from Rivera. They answer questions calmly and thoughtfully, the way he would. And they try to handle success and failure (not that Rivera had much of that to consider) in the same measured, good-humored way he did.

“It’s just part of the identity of the bullpen now. We’re going to be like that, no matter what happens,” said 27-year-old righty Adam Warren, who spent two years learning from Rivera. Warren and fourth-year reliever Dellin Betances now serve as teachers, instructing younger players in the School of Mariano.

“Hopefully newer guys look at me and Dellin and see how it was done, how he did it,” Warren said.

“Hopefully that can get passed down, because that’s super-important as a reliever…It’s a legacy that he started, and hopefully it’ll continue.”

Last year’s Yankee bullpen, in its first season without Rivera since 1995, comprised an elite unit led by Robertson, a rock the marginally successful team leaned on heavily. But significant turnover means only two holdovers in are likely to be in the pen when the 2015 regular season begins: closer-in-waiting Betances, and Warren, who may end up a starter depending on the Yankees’ needs.

So Rivera isn’t leaving anything to chance. He arrived in the early days of spring training, ready to deliver what amounted to a master class on how to be a relief pitcher in New York. Each morning, Rivera could be seen sitting down with a different reliever—one day Esmil Rogers, the next Justin Wilson, the next David Carpenter.

“I love working with the new pitchers,” he said.

Rivera doesn’t talk pitching with the new guys, per se. They would all love to know the secret to his devastating cutter, but it’s just not that easy to pass down. Instead, he instructs them on bullpen preparation, damage control and working in the big city, Carpenter said.

“We went over some of the basic stuff, a little pitching, but really adjusting to New York, preparation before games,” Carpenter said. “He was able to open up and talk about some of that stuff, and for someone like me, coming here fresh, that’s very valuable.”

Carpenter, 29, arrived in a trade from the Atlanta Braves this winter, and quickly noticed that there was a certain personality to this bullpen group. He soon figured out that it stemmed from Rivera’s influence, especially after talking to the man himself.

“With a guy like that, he’s going to leave a lasting influence on an organization, and especially on a part of the organization like the bullpen,” Carpenter said. “He’s left that influence of, here’s how we do things here, the work ethic. He’s been able to rub off on a few guys.”

When Rivera—a 13-time All-Star and baseball’s all-time saves leader—speaks, the pitchers listen. Lefty Justin Wilson, who was acquired this winter from the Pittsburgh Pirates, had no idea that Rivera would be around Yankee spring training. He was immediately star-struck.

“My day was made when I first saw him show up at camp,” Wilson said. “What he did in baseball is unreal, but to be that humble and see how he goes about his business is even more impressive.”

Rivera has left camp now, doffed his uniform and disappeared back into retirement. That leaves the few bullpen holdovers in their role as teaching assistants, passing along Rivera stories, anecdotes, and wisdom when the new guys ask, or when a situation arises. It’s part of their job.

“For us to apply that on the guys who are coming in, it’s hard to put that in perspective, because some of them didn’t see Mo,” Betances said. “But they look to us.”" Image above, Rivera, by AP via WSJ


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