TAMPA, Fla. -- Mariano Rivera was excited -- not nervous -- to face his first hitters since last April 30, three days before he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament while shagging fly balls in Kansas City.
On Friday, nearly 10 months after inducing a ground-ball double play from Baltimore's Chris Davis and picking up the save, Rivera took the mound at George M. Steinbrenner Field and tossed a 20-pitch batting-practice session to Rob Segedin and Kyle Roller, the first time he's thrown to hitters since undergoing surgery on his knee last year.
There's only so much that can be determined from a 20-pitch batting-practice session, of course, but Major League Baseball's all-time saves leader looked like his old self and reported feeling good about how it went.
"[It was] the first BP that I threw in almost a year, so I'm real happy with the results," Rivera said. "It will get better. The longer I keep throwing, it will get better. ... It's good, man. I feel real good. I feel real good with the results."
Manager Joe Girardi watched Rivera from behind the mound and said that the 43-year-old closer looked "great ... like what you expect him to look like, which is a good thing.
"Delivery, the ball movement, the strikes he's throwing, he's throwing it where he wants to, not taking a lot of time in between pitches -- he looked normal to me. I'm not sure what he's going to say, but I don't see anything different, for me."
Or, as former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who was in camp on Friday as a guest instructor, put it, "The cutter's still cutting."
Not that those results were unexpected. Rivera has been throwing in the bullpen and has given positive reports after each of those sessions.
The real test of Rivera's surgically repaired knee will come in game situations, when he might have to field a bunt or cover first base in a less controlled environment than the back fields of the Yankees' Spring Training complex. He has been doing those drills since pitchers and catchers reported, but he stressed that practice can't replicate the real thing.
"The one thing that I want to do is go out there in a real game," he said. "That's my goal, to go out there in a real game and see how everything responds."
Exactly when that will take place, however, has yet to be determined.
Rivera will probably throw one or two more batting-practice sessions to build up his endurance before trying to get in a game. Girardi trusts that Rivera will know when he's physically ready to do so but doesn't expect that to be any time soon. Before taking that step, Girardi said, Rivera will pitch a few simulated games.
"We have a long time," Rivera said, drawing out the second-to-last word. "I don't try to rush at all."
But Friday was no less important to Rivera, as he got a chance to see how hitters are reacting to his stuff, how his pitches are moving and how his command is progressing. Turns out his command is pretty much exactly what one would expect out of the most accomplished closer of all time.
When he stepped on the mound, Rivera told Segedin and Roller to swing, because they were going to see plenty of strikes. Segedin took the first two pitches from Rivera, who called each one a strike, before knocking the third offering into center field.
"That's one thing that, thank God, I never worry about -- the command," Rivera said. "It took no vacation. It's still there. Hasn't gone nowhere, guys. Still there. So that's good."
Rivera didn't expect that his pinpoint command had deserted him, nor did he allow himself to worry about it. That's why he was eager, not scared, to throw 20 pitches to a couple of Minor League hitters, and that's why it didn't take a potentially career-threatening injury to make him grateful that he was able to throw an ordinary batting-practice session.
"I always appreciate it. That's why I love the game of baseball. You don't know when will be the last day for you to play," he said. "I'm thankful and always appreciate what I do. Don't take it for granted."