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Girardi wants a rested bullpen when Yankees enter postseason

How much is home-field advantage worth in the American League? Not enough, Yankees manager Joe Girardi contends, to overtax his bullpen as the regular season winds down.

“We want home-field advantage,” Girardi said. “That’s important to us, but I sure wouldn’t want to go into the playoffs with two of our right-handers (Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson) on the DL.

“It’s not what you want.’’

Does that suggest the Bombers’ post-season hopes, for all of their mega-millions, are riding on their two primary righty setup relievers?

If so, that’s not as bad as it might seem. Both have, somewhat quietly (if that’s possible in New York), rebounded from horrific starts.

Chamberlain’s season-long 4.45 ERA hides the fact he has a 1.61 mark in 23 outings since July 28. Robertson’s ERA stood at 6.15 through July 2, but he’s trimmed it to 3.83 by compiling a 1.80 mark in his last 31 appearances.

The Yankees hold a 1½-game lead over the Rays after Monday’s 8-6 victory, but the teams play three more times.

It’s not an issue of reaching postseason, obviously. The AL field is all but set with the Yankees, Rays, Twins and Rangers. The only question is whether New York or Tampa Bay wins the East Division crown.

The AL champ gets home-field advantage, at least for the first round, and a likely matchup against the Rangers in the best-of-five divisional round. That’s not necessarily a good thing for the Yankees, who suffered a recent three-game sweep at Texas.

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Shutting down the King?

The going-nowhere Mariners face a ticklish situation in weighing Felix Hernandez’s mounting workload against his status as a Cy Young candidate. Are they really prepared to shut down their ace and, likely, kill his award chances?

“Our main objective is to take care of him,” manager Daren Brown stressed. “You look at 24 years old…It's something we'll monitor and take a look at. But taking care of him is our No. 1 priority.”

The concern is legit. King Felix leads the league with (233 2/3) innings and (3,508) pitches thrown. Both totals are approaching career highs set last year at 238 2/3 and 3,618.

That’s a lot of work for a guy who won’t turn 25 until next April. He is scheduled to pitch Thursday in Toronto and could get two other starts, on regular rest, before the season ends.

Putting Hernandez on ice wouldn’t be an issue if not for his status as a Cy Young contender. But he’s not only a contender – he is viewed by many as the favorite despite a 12-11 record.

Still, that lack of victories could be a major factor with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s voting panel since the other top candidates are New York’s CC Sabathia (20-6) and Tampa Bay’s David Price (17-6).

For Hernandez, a couple of more wins could make the difference.

“You want to give the kid every opportunity you can to go ahead and finish what he’s been doing,” Brown said. “But at the same time, I'll stick with what I said: He’s important to our future. I think we have to look at that."


Great White hope

The joke around Kansas City, where Matt Cassel is under fire, is the Royals now have the city’s best quarterback after signing former Dolphin Pat White to a minor-league contract.

That overlooks the fact, of course, that White was cut by the Dolphins and drew no interest from other NFL clubs before turning to baseball…but no matter. Cassel has been unimpressive despite leading the Chiefs to a 2-0 start.

(It also overlooks third baseman Josh Fields, who was a pretty good quarterback at Oklahoma State.)

White, 26, reported this week to the Royals’ complex in Surprise, Ariz., for duty in the Instructional League. He is trying to resurrect skills that once made him a first-round pick by the Angels.

It’s been six years since he last stepped on a diamond in uniform.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity,” White said. “I love playing both games but, right now, I’m excited about being able to swing the bat.”


Quick hits

•       The Twins are keeping their fingers crossed today as catcher Joe Mauer undergoes an MRI on his sore left knee. The injured occurred Sunday when Mauer took a swing against Oakland.

•       Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton is hoping for some answers after consulting Dr. Robert Watkins, a back specialist, on Monday in Los Angeles. Hamilton hasn’t played since suffering bruised ribs Sept. 4 when he crashed into the outfield wall. Texas manager Ron Washington said he believes Hamilton needs 20-30 at-bats prior to the end of the season to be ready for post-season.

•       Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon saved a 5-3 victory over the A’s on Sept. 12 by retiring the side in order in the final inning with three called strikeouts. Only four other pitchers have done that in the last 10 years: Mariano Rivera (2001), Jose Valverde (2003), Joe Nathan (2007) and Ryan Franklin (2009).

•       Royals closer Joakim Soria’s active streak of converting 32 consecutive save opportunities is the second-longest run for an AL pitcher in the last 10 years. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera had a 36-game streak in 2009.

•       Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera needs five more intentional walks to break the American League record of 34 by Red Sox legend Ted Williams in 1957. The major-league record is 120 by Giants outfielder Barry Bonds in 2004.

•       When the Red Sox started Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick in the outfield on Sept. 13 in a 5-1 victory at Seattle, it marked the first time that three rookies manned Boston’s starting outfield since Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks and Todd Benzinger in the 1987 season finale against Milwaukee.

•       Vernon Wells now holds the Blue Jays’ record for the most games played by an outfielder at 1,355. The mark formerly belonged to Lloyd Moseby, who had 1,349 games from 1980-89.

•       Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson needs two to become the ninth rookie since the modern era began in 1901 to reach 100 runs, 170 hits, 30 doubles, 10 triples and 20 steals. The last to do it was Florida’s Hanley Ramirez in 2006. The last AL player was Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra in 1997.

•       The Orioles are 28-17 since Buck Showalter became manager on Aug. 2. They were 32-73 when he arrived.

•       Chris Perez, at 24, is the youngest pitcher among the 13 players in Indians history to register at least 20 saves in a season. He has an 0.57 ERA in 31 appearances since June 28.

•       The 43 saves by Rays closer Rafael Soriano match the club record set by Roberto Hernandez in 1999. Soriano needs six more to tie the major-league record by a Dominican, set by Francisco Cordero with 49 in Texas in 2004.

•       Tigers veteran Johnny Damon had triples in successive games last week and became the second active player to reach 100 for his career. The active leader is Rays outfielder Carl Crawford with 104. The all-time leader is Hall of Famer Sam Crawford, who had 309 from 1899-1917.

•       The Red Sox are making a belated push to retain catcher Victor Martinez, a pending free agent, in large part because of the way he hits lefties: .399 (57 of 143) with 17 doubles, 11 home runs and 36 RBIs. His production counters the struggles exhibited by David Ortiz and J.D. Drew.

Bob Dutton

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