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Robertson injury exposes new-look Yanks

NEW YORK -- The ball will find you.

That's what baseball people like to say about a weak spot in a team's defense. If there's a bad glove out there, there's no sense in trying to hide it. Because the ball will find you.

Well, the same goes for a roster. If there's an area that's a little thin, a little shaky, or lacking depth, that is sure to be the first area that will be exposed.

And so it has been for the New York Yankees, who spent all winter spending nearly a half-billion dollars -- $438 million, to be exact, on four players -- to shore up sections of their aging roster, only to find that the two areas that most needed shoring up have been the first to break down.

Friday night, it was Mark Teixeira, the only legitimate first baseman on their roster who was coming off a season-ending injury, being felled by a hamstring strain.

And on Monday, it was David Robertson, their anointed successor to Mariano Rivera, going on the disabled list with a groin strain.

The combined toll of those two injuries, in particularly vulnerable areas, cast a pall greater than the gray, blustery weather over what should have been a festive 4-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in Derek Jeter's final home opener in the Bronx.

Suddenly, a team that appeared so solid coming out of spring training has two gaping holes in it. For now, Teixeira's place will be filled by Kelly Johnson, a career second baseman who was already being asked to learn to play third base.

And Robertson's job, one that he was only beginning to learn himself, will now be split among Shawn Kelley, who was already being asked to learn the role of setup man; Adam Warren, who still thinks of himself as a starter; and Dellin Betances, a rookie who only reinvented himself as a relief pitcher last season in Triple-A.

Virtually overnight, ninth innings at Yankee Stadium went from the hands of the man with the most saves in the history of baseball, to the hands of men who have a total of one career save among them.

That's how fragile a baseball team can be, and how tenuous a baseball season is, even for a club with a seemingly limitless payroll.

"We've had to do it before," manager Joe Girardi said after announcing Robertson's injury to a press corps that simply assumed he was unavailable after having worked in three of the previous four games. "Guys are just going to have to step up in his absence."

Right now, no one can be sure how long that absence will be, in either case. Teixeira, once among the most durable players in the major leagues -- he missed a total of 16 games in his first three seasons as a Yankee -- has missed 186 over his past two. He will also turn 34 on Friday.

Robertson turns 29 on Wednesday, and while he said he has never had a groin injury before, he missed a month with an oblique strain in 2012, just after he was promoted to closer when Rivera suffered a season-ending knee injury. By the time he came back, he found his new job had been given away to Rafael Soriano, who pitched well enough to hold on to it the rest of the season. It's impossible to say how long a Grade 1 groin strain will keep Robertson out, but it should be recalled that a similar injury cost Andy Pettitte two months in 2010 -- although to be fair, Pettitte was nine years older than Robertson.

"I think I can be back in 15 days," Robertson said.

But he admitted, "There's no way I could go out there and be 100 percent, do what I do, the way I'm feeling right now."

This year, there is no Soriano on the roster as a safety net, only a handful of either suspect or unproven pitchers who probably have the ability to do the job on at least a short-term basis but have yet to demonstrate whether they have the stomach for it over the long haul.

That had yet to be proven by Robertson, either, although his hard-earned nickname -- "Houdini" -- referred to his unquestioned ability to pitch his way out of tight spots, usually of his own making.

No one expected him to be Rivera, who turned the ninth inning into a nightly foregone conclusion for two decades. It was a given that this year, Yankees ninth innings would be different -- a little more dramatic, certainly, and perhaps a little more taxing on the cardiovascular system. But no one expected them to be all that different in substance.

After all, three outs is three outs and Robertson had already proven he could get those, if perhaps in a slightly more agitated fashion than Rivera.

But no one can be sure what to expect from his replacements, for however long he is out. Kelley was excellent for most of last year but tailed off late in his first full season after undergoing a second Tommy John surgery. Warren threw bullets in seventh and eighth inning appearances on Sunday and Monday, but he is a starter by trade and inclination and has never been asked to shut the door in a one- or two-run game. Betances has the tools to be a closer -- a 97-mph fastball and a knee-buckling curve -- but the same control problems that cost him a career as a starter in Triple-A seemed to rear their ugly heads in his second relief appearance of the year on Friday in Toronto. David Phelps, too, is starter and doesn't have the kind of overpowering stuff you normally look for in a closer.

There's no question that in certain areas, the 2014 Yankees are much better than their counterparts of a year ago. Jacoby Ellsbury adds speed and punch to their lineup. Brian McCann is a significant upgrade, both offensively and defensively, over Chris Stewart at catcher. Carlos Beltran is a much better option at DH/OF than Vernon Wells was. Michael Pineda could be the best thing to have come out of a Yankees camp in a long time, and if it's not him, then its Yangervis Solarte. And Masahiro Tanaka looks like front of the rotation material, no matter how much the general manager wants to temper everyone's expectations.

Still, with all those improvements, the roster still had two holes in it, at first base and closer.

And as always, the ball found them.

Shawn Kelley earned the save on Monday, the first of his major league career.

But you get the feeling it's going to take a lot more than that to save the Yankees now that the baseball has found the holes, as it always seems to.