TAMPA, Fla. -- Mariano Rivera was looking forward to the day that he could face hitters in a game, the first time he had done so since throwing the clinching pitch of the World Series.
While Rivera was all smiles after he hurled a scoreless inning in the Yankees' 4-1 win over the Astros on Tuesday, it dragged a little bit longer than anyone might have expected. The closer needed 27 pitches to get through the fifth inning, escaping by leaving the bases loaded.
"It's work," Rivera said. "Actually, it's good, because you're out there throwing your pitches and working. It's not six, seven, eight pitches. You need to throw to build strength. That's what I did."
Rivera called it a "day and night" difference to his first appearance last spring, when the Yankees were concerned about his health coming off arthroscopic surgery to shave down an arthritic AC joint in his pitching shoulder.
This time, there were no such deep breaths to take. Rivera's command might not have been at postseason form, as he hurled around a hit and a walk, but it didn't need to be.
"Mo looked good," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the first time out, the velocity was good. You remember last year what we went through early on. I think he looked really good."
Rivera said that he was pleased that most of his pitches were down. He made quick work of Jason Bourgeois on a four-pitch groundout before losing Jeff Keppinger on a rare six-pitch walk. Hunter Pence struck out swinging and Geoff Blum lined a two-out single to center field before Pedro Feliz reached on a fielder's choice.
Rivera recovered to get Jason Michaels to hit a ground ball to Derek Jeter at shortstop for the final out, leaving Rivera joking about the free pass he issued to Keppinger after he allowed only 12 in 66 1/3 regular-season innings all last year.
"I got too excited," Rivera said. "That's all right. Let it happen now."
Rivera's next spring outing will tentatively come on Friday against the Tigers on MLB.TV at 1:05 p.m. ET at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
"It felt good to face hitters," Rivera said. "It's a great feeling."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.