"He understands his craft as well as any pitcher I've ever been around, what he needs to do to get ready," Girardi said after Friday's game. "He's been so consistent since I met him in 1996. I'd be shocked if it were the other way, because he is so good."
The eight-time All-Star needed just eight pitches to retire the Astros in the fourth inning, which included a first-pitch out sandwiched between two punch outs -- the former swinging and the latter frozen. He then calmly walked off the field to raucous applause, just a few minutes after the crowd greeted him the same fanfare.
"I felt really good out there," Rivera said. "And I'll go again on Monday."
And as has been the pattern during the last several springs, Rivera formulated his pitching schedule and the team will adhere to it. The righty found the most success with his four-seam fastball on Friday, which flirted in the mid-90s. Rivera also mixed in a few sinkers to keep hitters on their toes.
Whatever he was doing out there, it worked.
Victor Diaz was Rivera's first victim. The Astros left fielder managed to foul off the first pitch he saw, but he came up empty-handed on two powerhouse swings that followed. Lance Niekro, too, made Rivera's job easy and got a piece of the first offering to come by. The first baseman tapped the ball weakly to second base for a groundout.
Finally came second baseman David Newhan, who earned Rivera's first and only "ball" call of the afternoon. After the freebie, Rivera was back to business, hammering three straight strikes to send Newhan packing.
Not too shabby for the first time out.
"Mo's Mo," Girardi said. "He's so good at what he does, you know that you just have to have him ready."
In order to be fully prepared for the 2008 season opener at home against the Blue Jays, Rivera said he'd like to get in nine to 10 innings of work. Included in that, he said, is working back-to-back games one time in late spring, and maybe even making a trip across the street to the Minor League complex, where he's routinely visited once in past years to pitch two consecutive innings.
"We'll see about this year," Rivera said.
Back in the clubhouse after his outing, Rivera fielded peer praise from all sides. Hall of Fame closer Goose Gossage sauntered by in street clothes, offered Rivera a congratulatory pat and a "Nice job, Mo." Teammate Darrell Rasner sat down and discussed the outing with his fellow pitcher. The sinker looked good, how did it feel? That was nice.
Even Andy Pettitte, who made his second start of the spring season on Friday, had a few choice words for Rivera's outing.
"Oh my gosh," Pettitte said. "It must be tough [to face him]."
Perhaps the best way to sum up Rivera's day, though, came during his postgame interview.
"Do you feel like you're 25 [years old] again?" one reporter queried.
"I feel like I'm 20," Rivera laughed.