- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
TAMPA, Fla. -- A spring training inning came to an end Saturday, one exhibition inning among thousands that won't count. But this inning had been a little different.
This was the first inning thrown by Mariano Rivera in about 10 months, and it came just a few hours after he had sat with his family in a room crowded by all of his teammates and officially announced his retirement after the 2013 season. He had appeared to be on the edge of tears once, as he glanced at his teammates, but held on to his composure, through some anxiousness. The announcement was anything but a surprise, given that Rivera had planned to retire at the end of last season before his knee injury.
But the scouts who assembled to watch the daily parade of pitches and swings Saturday had no idea whether Rivera would be the same, or if there would finally be signs of age, or if he would look rusty.
"You're not supposed to get goose bumps watching spring training," one scout said.
Earlier in the day, catcher Chris Stewart paused in his reading of a Bobby Fischer biography to consider the possibility that he might catch the last pitch of Rivera's career later this year, and talked about how neat that would be. But as he waited for Rivera to jog in from the bullpen to pitch to some hitters in the middle of the Atlanta Braves lineup, this was much more routine. Stewart slammed the ball into Rivera's glove to get started.
The scouts raised their radar guns on the first pitch Rivera threw, with the same easy delivery he's had his whole career. A cut fastball, predictably: 90 mph. Without the adrenaline of the regular season, or a ninth inning: 90 mph. This is about how hard he's been throwing for the past five or six seasons.
His next cutter: 91 mph. The ball was veering, as always, away from right-handed hitters, and he worked to the edges of the plate, as always.
Then he touched 92 mph. That is the way the whole inning went, with Rivera throwing 90-92 mph, his last pitch a called third strike on a cutter that swerved over the outside corner.
Overall, it has been a terrible spring training so far for the New York Yankees. They don't have the same kind of margin for error that they've had in the past because of their winter of austerity, and they immediately lost Curtis Granderson (broken arm) and Mark Teixeira (sprained wrist). Derek Jeter, like Rivera, returned to the lineup for the first time Saturday, as the designated hitter, and although he hit the first pitch he saw to left field for a single, he appeared to labor a bit on his way to first base, with a hint of a limp. You won't really know if there will be a regression with his defense until he's trying to get to balls hit up the middle or to his right, rather than having coaches hit a series of ground balls right at him. More information is needed.
But as Rivera walked off after his perfect 1-2-3 inning, there probably were Yankees executives sighing with some relief; the closer job won't be an issue. He looked great; he looked the same.
Rivera says this will be his last year, and there's no reason to not take him at his word, but he looks like he could pitch for more years beyond 2013, if he changes his mind.
News and notes
• Saturday's WBC fight -- that would be the World Baseball Classic, not the World Boxing Council -- was really stupid. The principals from the team from Mexico either didn't understand the rules about run differential or they didn't know them, and the team's staff didn't illuminate them before any of the three attempts to drill Canada's Rene Tosoni. And then, as the skirmish broke out, it was as if Alfredo Aceves and others turned this into an MMA event, with roundhouse rights. Not that there's necessarily any good reason for a fight, but the justification versus potential damage ratio was way off, and hopefully, as the players wake up today, nobody is injured.
Richard Griffin writes that the fight restored Team Canada's mojo.
• I wrote in my blog yesterday that before Melky Cabrera was suspended, the Giants were engaged in talks on a deal for something in the range of $80 million. But a source with knowledge of the Giants' thinking indicated Saturday that no deal was close.
• A top Padres prospect is taking on the challenge of a position change, writes Spencer Fordin.
• Ryan Zimmerman is killing the ball as a DH, and is in no rush to play third base. Given how good Anthony Rendon has looked this spring, I do wonder if the Nationals will soon come face to face with the timing of the decision they eventually will have to make about shifting Zimmerman from third to first and trading Adam LaRoche -- perhaps next winter.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Rockies need to upgrade their rotation with J.A. Happ and Chris Capuano, writes Woody Paige. I'm not quite sure what that would accomplish. What's the point of giving up organizational assets to try to add a few wins for a team likely to finish fourth or fifth in 2013?
2. By the way: Rival officials believe that other clubs will wait for the Dodgers to be backed into a corner by the calendar before making any deal for Aaron Harang and/or Capuano, so that the Dodgers will eat most of the dollars owed to the pitchers. Harang is set to make $7 million this season, and he has a $2 million buyout on a 2014 option, and Capuano will make $6 million, with a $1 million buyout on a 2014 option.
Dings and dents
4. Scott Baker's early return is key for the Cubs.
The fight for jobs
The Rockies count on Matt Belisle as a workhorse, writes Patrick Saunders.
Buster Posey's a hit.
It's a different time for Ned Colletti.
A couple of Oakland pitchers are good friends.
Nick Castellanos is showing he'll be called up sooner rather than later, writes Lynn Henning.
Tom Brunansky is a positive addition for the Twins.
• A top Pirates prospect is starting over, Karen Price writes.
• The Cubs could be adding a mascot at Wrigley.
The old-school view: Wrigley shouldn't have a mascot. The reality: Young kids like mascots. And the addition of any mascot would be for them, not for 50-year-olds who rooted for Ron Santo.
• Vanderbilt just keeps on winning.
And today will be better than yesterday
Buster Olney writes that Mariano Rivera's first outing provided a glimmer of hope in a spring training filled with injuries for the New York Yankees.