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Inbox: How long can Mo possibly go?

Inbox: How long can Mo possibly go?

As we continue to wait to see how the Johnny Damon drama plays out, it's time once again to dive into the Yankees Inbox and see what's on your minds as the final weeks of the Hot Stove season tick off into Spring Training:

Mariano Rivera considers himself to be at optimum health, but how much longer can he really go? Is Mark Melancon still considered Rivera's heir, or could Dave Robertson fulfill the closer duties?
-- Ben B., Maplewood, N.J.

Short story: I keep picturing Rivera sitting at the news conference podium after Game 6 of the World Series, the complete image of contentment after the wild clubhouse celebration, and he calmly mentioned that he believed he could pitch five more seasons. Everyone chuckled a little, but Rivera absolutely meant it at that moment, and who was about to argue with him?

That night, Derek Jeter was talking about how he knew the Yankees were going to win the World Series the moment that the bullpen doors opened, with New York up, 7-3.

"He's human; he's going to give up some runs here and there," Jeter said then. "But a four-run lead? C'mon, man. We could have gone and played another nine innings."

And you know what? Jeter was right, as he usually is. There was no doubt about that game being over, which is exactly how Rivera has cemented his legend over the years. Now, to (finally) get to your question, Rivera made everyone who was worrying about his surgically repaired shoulder look a little silly this year, and I'd be careful betting against him.

He loves telling people that he compensates with wisdom for what he lacks in velocity and stuff, and no, he won't pitch forever. But let's be honest: absolutely no one likes facing that still-magical cutter in the late innings, and as long as that holds true, Rivera should be able to get outs. Whether that means one, two, three, four more seasons -- who knows?

While Melancon and Robertson have bright futures, I'd say we haven't seen the person who can convincingly send Rivera out the door on his way to Cooperstown -- unless, maybe, it's Joba Chamberlain. In any event, you probably won't want to be the guy who follows Rivera. You want to be the guy after that guy.

Has anyone added up the number of homers Rivera gives up per at-bats against him? It strikes me that he's got to be near-No. 1 in giving up the fewest.
-- Ray R., Pleasantville, N.Y.

While we're talking about Mo, you got us curious, and indeed you're correct. Rivera has allowed 0.4954 home runs per nine innings pitched in his career, which ranks lowest among active pitchers. Brandon Webb (0.6274) is second, and Tim Hudson (0.7166) is third.

How about some discussion regarding a potential lineup?
-- Chris B., Saratoga, N.Y.

Let's take another look at this, since Kevin Long and I were talking about this not too long ago and the roster hasn't changed since then. Though the final call sits with Joe Girardi, K-Long said that he could see Nick Johnson hitting behind Jeter in the No. 2 hole to take advantage of his polished on-base abilities, with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez hitting third and fourth.

Then you have to see who replaces Hideki Matsui in the five-hole, and maybe Robinson Cano is ready to protect A-Rod. If not, Jorge Posada has done it and could hit fifth. That puts Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson and Cano to follow (feel free to rearrange those three if you wish). Brett Gardner could be a pretty good fit as a speedy No. 9 hitter and a second leadoff man of sorts.

No one mentions Jamie Hoffmann. He's a huge defensive upgrade over Damon and he has power. Do you think the Yankees may give him more respect than the fans and media and let him compete seriously for the starting job?
-- Bruce J., Camas, Wash.

I don't think it's a matter of respect, but the Yankees are looking at Hoffmann to be one of the final choices. General manager Brian Cashman described him as a player with great makeup, a hockey mentality and a projected future as an everyday-type player, but for the purposes of the 2010 team, he's being considered as the 25th man.

"In our roster situation where we're at in terms of competing, he's a guy who we hope can be No. 25 on our roster and give Joe some choices," Cashman said.

There was so much hype about putting Austin Jackson in the outfield, but they just traded him all of a sudden. What happened over this past year that caused him to get traded?
-- Akash G., Rye, N.Y.

Have a question about the Yankees?
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It wasn't that Jackson necessarily did anything wrong (there was a similar question this week about Phil Coke). There was a thought within the organization that Jackson needed more seasoning in the Minors to begin 2010, and also that if absolutely everything broke right, he'd have a chance to be a player like Granderson. It may very well turn out that Jackson is a productive, All-Star big league outfielder, but why not make the move and get the sure thing in Granderson right now?

What's the current plan for Pat Venditte? I know a lot of people saw him as more of a sideshow gimmick, but the guy did great last year in the Minors. Do you think he could make it to the roster at some point this season?
-- John F., New York, N.Y.

Whether or not he continues switch-pitching at the higher levels, Venditte's attitude has convinced people that he could have a legitimate shot at advancing. With low ERAs and high strikeout ratios, he really has become a fascination among our readers, but there's some question about how his ability will play at the next stops. Since he's pitched no higher than the Florida State League, it seems too soon to project him for the big leagues in 2010.

Do you think Kei Igawa would make another lefty for the Yankees to use in the bullpen? If New York spent all this money on this guy, why not use him?
-- William B., Lawrenceville, Va.

I'd love to have seen the Yankees try it, even though they obviously didn't bring Igawa in to be a situational reliever. At the least, it might have been a good experiment. It's wonderful that Igawa is winning games at Triple-A, but that doesn't help the big league club, nor does it get any return on their investment. As it stands now, the Yankees have lefty options in Damaso Marte, Boone Logan and non-roster invitee Royce Ring. Truthfully, if the Yankees can trade Igawa, they probably should.

I know the Yankees are looking for another outfielder and they're looking at Rocco Baldelli, but wasn't Ramiro Pena training for the outfield?
-- Stephanie B., Jersey City, N.J.

Pena was, when the Yankees sent him down last season and wanted him to try to get a little more versatile -- basically, to become a younger version of Jerry Hairston Jr. From all reports, Pena took pretty well to the outfield, playing center for seven games at Triple-A. That can't hurt his chances of sticking with the big club.

Is Andrew Brackman still in the Yankees' future plans? I haven't even heard his name mentioned as a prospect.
-- Jody S., Peru, N.Y.

He sure is; in fact, Baseball America ranked him as the Bombers' 10th best prospect heading into 2010. The Yankees knew they were going to have a project with Brackman when they drafted him, but now that he's past Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, maybe he can get back on track.

He was wild to begin last year at Class-A Charleston, but seemed to benefit when the Yankees worked on his mechanics and reduced his repertoire to just a fastball and curveball. He spent some time in the bullpen but will head back into 2010 as a starter. If he throws strikes, he should progress.

I read where Reggie Jackson said that he used to hit knuckleball pitchers pretty good. What were his career stats against the likes of Charlie Hough and Tom Candiotti?
-- Steve Y., Lutz, Fla.

We don't get too many Mr. October questions for the Inbox, so let's take a look in the history books. Jackson was 4-for-18 (.222) off Candiotti with one double, one homer and four RBIs. The homer came in his final at-bat against him on June 28, 1987. Hough held him to nine hits in 47 trips (.220) with two doubles, three homers and eight RBIs.

Of course, those are regular-season stats. That blast he hit off Hough into the Yankee Stadium black in the 1977 World Series trumps all the statistical research you want to do. As far as the highlight reels are concerned, like all those grainy videos of Babe Ruth belting moonshots (and not striking out), Jackson will be remembered doing just fine against the knuckleball.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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