NEW YORK -- The 62 men that David Robertson has struck out in 41 2/3 innings this season have not been lost on his manager. Strikeouts, like so many other things, take on an increased importance in October.

"In bullpen situations, you want guys that have the ability to strike guys out when they come in during the middle innings with guys on base," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He definitely has that, and that's an important piece of the puzzle."

It was also a rather blurry piece of the puzzle until Tuesday night's 4-3 Yankees win over the Royals, when Robertson took the mound for the first time since New York shut him down three weeks ago with tightness in his right elbow.

Worry, if only briefly, turned to genuine concern when Robertson flew to visit Dr. James Andrews at his Pensacola, Fla., office, where all of that anxiety finally ceased. Robertson's stiff right elbow was diagnosed as just that -- a stiff elbow, nothing more -- and Andrews' recommendation was a brief September rest.

When Robertson returned from that rest on Tuesday, he immediately displayed the skill set that Girardi believes will be so important come October, striking out the first batter he faced (and arguably Kansas City's best hitter), Billy Butler.

Yes, Robertson walked a batter, and no, he was not thrilled with his command. But most important, of course, was hardly the result. It was Robertson's clean bill of health.

"The elbow felt great," Robertson said after the game. "I didn't have any problems at all warming up. It felt really good. It felt just like normal. And then once I got out of the game, it felt the exact same. It felt like it was a month ago."

And it looked the same, too.

"I was very pleased with what we saw last night," Girardi said. "He threw strikes. He threw his curveball. I talked to him today, and he said he feels great. That's encouraging, too."

Though Robertson's inclusion on the postseason roster is no guarantee, another strong outing on Friday against the Rays in St. Petersburg could solidify his case. Currently, Robertson, Brian Bruney, Damaso Marte, Alfredo Aceves and Chad Gaudin are all in contention for what appears to be three open spots in a seven-man American League Division Series bullpen.

Robertson, easily the best strikeout artist of the bunch if he's healthy, would seem to have an early advantage based on those merits.

"I think it's important that we try to get him back to the level that he was at before," Girardi said. "He was great out of the bullpen for us."