The short relief job is a glamorous one with the Yankees, having been filled for the past dozen years by Sparky Lyle and Rich Gossage. But with Gossage now in San Diego, who better to thrust into the late-inning limelight than the cover boy of the 1984 Yankee press guide, Dave (Rags) Righetti? Yes, Righetti, who was the 1981 Rookie of the Year and who had a 1983 Fourth of July no-hitter against Boston. O.K., Righetti has had only one save in his pro career. And Gossage averaged 25 saves a season in New York and is, notes Righetti, "a legend."
"I don't think the New York fans expect me to be like Goose," Righetti says. "They know. They've watched me come up and go down and seen everything else. They know me as a starter, and they realize I'm taking a gamble going to the bullpen. And they think it's crazy."
But worth the try, say the Yankees. "We had to find somebody who could strike people out and who had the gutty makeup that it takes to fill that role," says copitching coach Jeff Torborg. "And we thought of Righetti right away."
Last season Righetti was most effective in the early innings. He didn't allow a home run in the first three innings of any game; also, opponents batted .190 against him in the first two innings but .255 from the third on.
Righetti can bring it: He has a 95-mph fastball and has averaged 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings. And the more he talks, the more he sounds like a reliever. "Knowing that I might be pitching every day is something I like, actually," he says. "I used to hate the sitting around between starts. Going to the ball park thinking, 'Hey, I might be in the game today,' that's a pretty decent feeling." Even so, Righetti wrote I'M CONFUSED over his spring-training locker.
For longer relief, the Yankees have added Mike Armstrong, who last season pitched in advance of Kansas City stopper Dan Quisenberry—"setting the table," Armstrong says—as Quiz set a major league record with 45 saves.
New York has a lot of old faces in new places. One belongs to manager Yogi Berra, a Yankee coach the last eight years (see page 84). Berra, who sold Righetti on the move to the pen, has flopped Dave Winfield and Steve Kemp, putting Winfield in right and Kemp in left; moved Ken Griffey from first to center; and shifted shortstop Roy Smalley to first, where he must compete with young Don Mattingly. Newcomer Toby Harrah will platoon with disgruntled Graig Nettles at third.
The bottom line, though, is the bullpen, where the Yankees hope their Rich-to-Rags experiment won't wind up as riches to rags.
Lefties Ron Guidry and Dave Righetti were 14-2 and 9-1, respectively, in spacious Yankee Stadium but only 7-7 and 5-5 elsewhere. Conversely, four regulars hit better on the road than at home: Steve Kemp was .272 away, .208 at home; Andre Robertson .278, .222; Butch Wynegar .336, .269; and Dave Winfield .303, .261.