EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Mariano Rivera knows it’s not likely, but the New York Yankees closer has not ruled out the possibility of returning this season — just a little over a month after undergoing surgery on his right knee.
The 42-year-old Rivera, baseball’s career saves leader, injured his right knee while running after fly balls in batting practice in Kansas City on May 3. A blood clot in his leg delayed surgery until June 12. A full recovery from ACL surgery generally takes six-to-nine months.
“I’d love to be playing right now,” Rivera said Saturday. “I want to be playing, but I have to be smart and let time do its thing. I don’t talk about it (a timetable). I just do what I have to do to get ready and whatever happens happens. I don’t want to rush it and think I can come back too soon. I have to be patient.”
Rivera was at the New York Giants’ facility, watching Chelsea Football Club practice in preparation to face Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters that Rivera is “totally out” for the 2012 season.
But Rivera, who was 1-1 with a 2.16 ERA with five saves before the injury, doesn’t want to think about that.
“We’re doing things little by little,” Rivera said. “What we’re doing with the rehab is great. I don’t want to go too fast, do something wrong and hurt it again. It’s all part of a process. Once I go back on the mound, I want to be 100 percent ready.”
Rivera has not done any running yet, nor has he begun to throw a baseball. But that’s not going to deter Rivera, who has earned 608 saves in his 18 seasons with the Yankees.
“It is hard,” Rivera said. “I’m doing a lot of moving and stretching. It definitely hurts. I’m not going to lie. It gets stiff if I stand for too long or if I sit too long. In the morning, it’s tough. But I feel good and excited about getting back. I’m just taking it all day-by-day. I would love to come back sooner than what (the doctors) say, but I know it takes time.”
Rivera said that he doesn’t feel pressure to get back sooner, because the Yankees are winning, sitting atop the A.L. East by a considerable margin. The Yankees began play Saturday with a 57-36 record, eight games better than second-place Baltimore.
“The good thing is that the team is doing great,” Rivera said. “It makes it easier for me to concentrate on what I have to do. It gives me a peace of mind.”
It also helps that Rivera’s replacement as the Yankee closer, Rafael Soriano, is having a brilliant season, posting a 2-0 record with a 1.46 ERA and 24 saves. Soriano has blown only one save all season.
“Soriano has done a tremendous job,” Rivera said. “The whole team has done well. The whole bullpen has been tremendous. I always talk to Soriano, just like he did when he came to the team. I talked to him about how to pitch in New York. He’s done it before (as a closer with Tampa Bay, getting 45 saves in 2010). He doesn’t have to prove anything.”
Rivera has been going through his rehabilitation in New York and visits with the Yankees during every homestand. Still, it’s been tough being away from his teammates on a regular basis.
“I don’t want to be here,” Rivera said. “I’d rather be with my team. It’s part of the game. I have to accept it and I have to move on.”
There was some talk of Rivera retiring following this season, but that’s not going to happen — especially not after the knee injury.
“I love the game and I love the competition,” Rivera said. “I love being on the field. I’m not going out like that. I definitely want to go out on my own terms. I’m just going to do my part and the rest is out of my reach.”
Rivera watched Chelsea F.C. practice, then traded jerseys and posed for pictures with some Chelsea players after the session was over.
“I was a soccer player in Panama,” Rivera said. “I love the game. I watch soccer all the time. I have a strong passion for it. It’s something I enjoy. I could have been a soccer player, but the Lord chose baseball for me. I think it was the best decision for me.”