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Joba in place to set up games for Mo

Joba in place to set up games for Mo

BOSTON -- Perhaps there was some truth to Joe Girardi's statement on Sunday that the Yankees' setup role is up for grabs. Perhaps David Robertson or Chan Ho Park or some other unknown challenger will step up and claim the job.

Just don't count on it.

With a rested and healthy bullpen at his disposal on Sunday night, Girardi opted to use Park early, save Damaso Marte for a key lefty and turn to Joba Chamberlain in the eighth.

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No surprises there. All Girardi did was affirm what everyone expected.

Chamberlain, despite his Opening Night hiccups, figures to own the eighth inning. Park and Robertson profile as middle relievers. Marte will face the toughest lefties and Alfredo Aceves will fill in the gaps.

And at the end, of course, lurks Mariano Rivera.

"We had a hard time getting to Mo tonight," was how Girardi explained his team's 9-7 loss to the Red Sox. "That's what happened. That's going to happen from time to time. I still have a lot of faith in those guys down there, and we just had a hard time doing it tonight."

Most of the blame fell on Park, the first man out of the bullpen. His two-thirds of an inning were littered with three runs (two earned) on three hits, resulting in the loss. But he'll be entrusted in that spot again. With a bit more endurance than Chamberlain and a bit less firepower, Park seems better suited to the sixth or seventh inning -- or both. It's difficult to imagine him branching out from that role.

"You can't worry about it," Park said after the loss. "It's the first game, and you learn from it."

Then there is Robertson, who endeared himself to Girardi down the stretch last season. Though Robertson, too, faltered in Sunday's opener, allowing an inherited runner to score, he remains an important bullpen cog.

Had the Yankees opted to carry a second lefty, Boone Logan, on the roster, they would have had more late-inning options -- recall how Girardi mixed and matched almost to a fault last October, with both Marte and Phil Coke at his disposal. The presence of a second lefty would allow him to tinker similarly this season.

But with Logan in Triple-A, Girardi cannot dedicate Marte to the eighth. What if David Ortiz comes up in the seventh? Marte's job is to face the opposing team's most potent left-handed hitters, and they don't bat at the same time every day. Girardi must pick his spots.

It helps that, unlike many managers, he trusts his right-handed relievers against left-handed hitters. And for good reason. Aceves actually fared better against lefties last season, holding them to a .212 batting average compared to .228 for righties. Robertson had even more extreme splits, holding left-handed hitters to a .189 average, right-handers to .237.

Those two will see plenty of action against left-handed hitters, particularly if Girardi is forced to spend Marte early.

By default, that leaves Chamberlain for the eighth. Though he, too, struggled in Sunday night's opener, allowing a stray run in the eighth to double Boston's margin, his mere presence suggested a more calculated approach to the back end of the bullpen.

And that much, struggles aside, isn't likely to change.

"It's one game," Girardi said. "You don't make too much out of one game either way. If they had thrown up all zeroes, you can't make too much out of it. It's a long season, and it was just one game."

Anthony DiComo 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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