(Courtesy of the AP)
Mariano Rivera made his return to the mound last night after a week off from action. He hadn't pitched since blowing his third consecutive save last Sunday against the Tigers, and no, nothing was physically wrong with him. After experiencing his first rough patch of the season, Joe elected to give Mo some extra time off after a somewhat heavy workload the week prior. Overworking a 43-year-old baseball icon and risking injury to him would not be a fun way to finish Mo's final season, but to go a full week between appearances seemed like a bit of overkill. After all, the only way a pitcher gets over command problems is by continuing to pitch and working through them. Mo's recent struggles being command-based, it would have been helpful to get him some work prior to last night.
Mo's command was better last night than it was the last time he pitched against the Tigers on 8/11. That said, it was hardly pinpoint. He managed to keep his cutter down in the strike zone better than he had been, but he missed off the corner with a fair amount of them and also both of the 4-seamers PITCHf/x had him throwing. The pitch that Ortiz hit for a single missed its spot, as did the pitch that Jonny Gomes took for ball 4 in his walk. If we're being fair, there was some BIP luck involved in the final out of the game as well.
This is not meant to suggest that something is or was wrong with Mo beyond the standard command/control problems. It's to point out the downside to sitting Mo out as long as he did. A week went by without him getting any in-game work to figure things out and he looked less than his best again last night in a save situation. Those were scarce this past week, and I get how that can make Joe's decision on pitching or resting his struggling closer seem easier, but it's important to keep Mo sharp out there. It's probably even more important to keep Mo sharp than it is other relievers since he only throws 1 pitch, and it was clear last night that he doesn't have all the kinks worked out with that pitch yet.
Mo being a machine is a longstanding joke in Yankeeland, but the truth is he's no different than any other pitcher. He needs regular work to stay on his game and sometimes he needs work to find his game when he loses it. With another day of scheduled rest today, he should be more than ready to go for the "4 in 3" series against the Jays on Tuesday. Hopefully Joe gets him into at least 2 of those games so Mo can get back into a groove.