Miller first Yankee to have 8 saves through 20 games

Lefty shuts down Rays as bullpen mix continues to work for Girardi

Miller first Yankee to have 8 saves through 20 games

NEW YORK -- Officially, the Yankees don't have a closer. Realistically, they have the guy tied for the most saves in the American League -- and plenty of other good arms in the bullpen to get the ball to him.

The Yankees relievers had another near-perfect night Monday, and when Andrew Miller closed out the Rays in the ninth inning, the Yankees had a 4-1 win and Miller had his eighth save.

That's eight saves in the first 20 games of the season, something no Yankee had ever done.

"Not a big deal," Miller said. "I'm only surprised that Mariano [Rivera] didn't have 19 saves in 20 games."

It is a big deal, even if no one is yet ready to compare Miller to Mariano. It's only April, but the Yankees' plan to entrust the late innings to Miller and Dellin Betances is working.

Miller has yet to allow a run in 9 1/3 innings (with 17 strikeouts), and whether manager Joe Girardi wants to announce it or not, he's the closer. Betances hasn't allowed an earned run in 11 1/3 innings (also with 17 strikeouts), and he handles the eighth inning.

The guys in front of them aren't bad, either. On Sunday night against the Mets, the Yankees used five relievers to pitch 4 2/3 innings, and none of them gave up a hit.

Yankees' scoreless relief

On Monday against the Rays, it was four relievers for 3 1/3 innings, and the only hit was Evan Longoria's leadoff single against Miller in the ninth.

Sunday, Girardi went to the bullpen with a one-run lead and 14 outs to go. Monday, he pulled starter Adam Warren in a 1-1 game in the sixth. Justin Wilson struck out James Loney to get out of the inning, and the left-hander got the first two outs of the seventh. David Carpenter finished the seventh and handed the ball to Betances for the eighth.

Warren strikes out six

By that time, the Yankees had taken the lead, thanks to Brian McCann's home run in the sixth, followed later that inning by doubles from Carlos Beltran and Stephen Drew. With Betances and Miller looming, the game was as good as over.

"You don't want to be there [hitting against Betances and Miller]," Beltran said. "You see the opposing team's at-bats, everyone looks uncomfortable. Those guys are 6-6, and on the mound they look bigger than that."

The Yankees' original plan was for Miller and Betances to share the ninth inning, but the way it has worked is that Miller has gotten all the save opportunities and has converted every one.

"It's worked well, and I'll keep doing what I'm doing," Girardi said of the closing situation. "I still believe they both can do the job. It's working the way we're doing it, but I still believe they're interchangeable."

It is working, and both Betances and Miller say they have no problem with the way it's working. Neither one had closing experience going into the season, and neither one was going to demand the role now.

Miller still says he wants to treat the ninth like any other inning, the only difference being that when he succeeds he's giving high-fives on the field. He hasn't done any type of celebration dance, and doesn't plan on it.

In that way, he is like Rivera, whose highest save total 20 games into a season was seven, in 2000 and '11. He never had more, in large part because his Yankees teams weren't playing enough close games for that many save opportunities.

The games are close now, and Miller and his bullpen mates are turning them into wins. As long as that happens, it doesn't matter if he's called the closer or not.

Danny Knobler is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.