Anthony Castrovince

Mo right on cue in Grapefruit League debut

Mo right on cue in Grapefruit League debut

Mo right on cue in Grapefruit League debut
TAMPA, Fla. -- The opening notes of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" began on cue.

On Mariano Rivera's cue, to be precise.

Rivera strode to the mound for the sixth inning of Sunday's game against the Twins at George M. Steinbrenner Field for his first appearance of the Grapefruit League season, more than two weeks into the spring exhibition schedule.

But when you're Mariano Rivera, you make your own schedule. You lay down your own rules. Rivera doesn't throw in the offseason, doesn't appear in games until he deems himself ready and doesn't even have gray pants in his locker at the Yanks' complex because he never pitches on the road down here.

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"Mo has a plan and a regimen, and it has worked for him," manager Joe Girardi said. "He understands what works for him. We talk about how you can't get caught up in what the guy next to you is doing. You have to worry about what you need to do. And that's what Mo does. He does it as good as anyone I've ever seen."

Want proof? Witness his Grapefruit debut Sunday.

After the Metallica tune faded out and the cheers from fans died down, Rivera went to work.

His work was as brief as it was brilliant.

Rivera faced Jason Kubel, Matt Brown and Luke Hughes. Twelve pitches and nine strikes after it began, it was over. Kubel and Brown struck out looking, while Hughes varied the pattern by striking out swinging.

"Silly," Girardi said.

Unsurprising, said Rivera.

"I always expect the best [from myself]," he said. "I always expect to do the best. You just have to go out there, trust in God and trust in yourself. That's what I do."

He's done it the last 15 years as the Yankees' closer, and now No. 42 is just 42 saves away from tying Trevor Hoffman's all-time saves record of 601. That Rivera provides his mastery of the opposition primarily with the use of a single pitch -- a cutter with late movement -- is impressive. That he's able to command and locate that cutter from the first pitch of Spring Training is amazing -- and a testament to the notion that the 41-year-old Rivera knows what he's doing when he draws up his spring plan of progression.

Just ask Russell Martin, the newly acquired Yankees catcher who had the distinct pleasure of catching Rivera for the first time on Sunday.

Martin didn't have to move his glove at all. Every pitch he called (and you can guess which pitch that was), Rivera delivered, with pinpoint accuracy.

"I guess that's why he gets paid the big bucks," Martin said. "When you're in the box [facing Rivera], it's a nightmare. When you're behind the plate, it's the complete opposite."

Rivera joked that the running he did after the outing was more taxing than the outing itself. But what he does is certainly not as easy as he makes it look.

He admits he doesn't have the velocity he once did -- "Whatever you saw, that's what I have [left]," he said -- but his accuracy affords him the ability to atone for the decline in speed.

"You get older, you get wiser," he said. "You're just trying to throw the best pitch you can and make sure you hit your spots. I don't have to force nobody. I don't have that fastball I used to have in '96, '95. But I just make it work."

Rivera's made it work long enough that nobody begrudges him the ability to dictate his own spring schedule.

"We'll see him again next week," Derek Jeter said with a laugh.

Five years ago, Rivera didn't throw all offseason because he was living in the cold New York winter, and he found that the long layoff worked for him and his arm. He's employed that plan ever since.

"Don't get me wrong," he said. "I do not recommend that you do not throw before you get here. It's a little hard for your shoulder and your arm. Especially if you try to push it too early. You have to pace it up. I think I have the time to do that. Some others don't have the time. I've been blessed with that."

And the Yankees are blessed to have him on hand, on the mound and in the clubhouse, Girardi said.

"I think Mo brings stability, and he teaches along with it," said Girardi. "Mo is very coachable. He's a guy that's warm and humble, and he's easy to talk to. Mo's going to offer advice, and Mo's going to take care of his bullpen. He understands that everyone in that bullpen is important. He's a good figure to have down there."

This was Girardi's first chance to get a look at how the back end of his bullpen looks. Before Rivera tossed that perfect sixth, setup man Rafael Soriano threw a scoreless fifth. Aside from the actual innings pitched and the watered-down lineup of the opposition, it was just the way the Yankees drew it up when they made Soriano the most-highly paid setup man in the game.

As for Rivera, this was the first but not the last that we see of him this spring. Last year, he tossed just six innings -- all at home, of course -- in the Grapefruit season, and that proved sufficient in getting him ready.

"That's enough," he said. "That's definitely enough."

Was this enough?

"One is not enough," he said with a smile. "I have to go back out there again."

Girardi wasn't so sure. After watching Mo work his magic as if no layoff had occurred, the manager was asked if he would feel comfortable and confident in Rivera if the season started tomorrow.

"Oh yeah," Girardi said. "He's ready."

Right on cue.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.