CC Sabathia Key To Yankees Season

by Nik Swartz | Posted on Wednesday, March 18th, 2015
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New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia

New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia

Tuesday night New York Yankees hefty-lefty CC Sabathia made his much anticipated spring training debut against the Toronto Blue Jays. Sabathia went two innings, gave up two runs on four hits and struck out two.

Just looking at Sabathia’s stat line for the game some may assume it wasn’t a strong debut, some who watched Sabathia last night may have come away with a negative opinion of his two innings, but’s Jayson Stark reported something positive about Sabathia today. Stark said a scout who saw Sabathia last night said: “He threw better, harder, than I’ve seen him throw in 3 years. Good sign for the Yankees.”

It’s an interesting take on Sabathia’s performance and obviously a MLB scout would know as much, if not more than anyone else on what looks good and what doesn’t, but it’s very difficult to look at Sabathia’s performance last night and not see similarities to the pitcher who struggled his last healthy season.

After breezing through the first inning, the consistently inconsistent Sabathia ran into trouble in the second, which has become common place for Sabathia since he started losing velocity with his fastball. Early innings have been Sabathia’s Achilles heel for a while and seeing the problems in his first start of the spring should concern the Yankees.

Sabathia did have more zip on his fastball last night, especially his first pitch which was clocked at 96 MPH according to the YES Network gun. The 96 MPH pitch has to be taken with a grain of salt, although he was hitting 89-92 MPH with his other 41 pitches, which is a nice sign that he may have more left in the tank than most assumed he did.

One major concern about Sabathia, who’s coming off right knee surgery that held the former CY Young winner to only eight starts last season, has to be the lack of confidence Sabathia seems to have using his fastball to get batters out.

Before hurting his knee Sabathia went 3-4 with a 5.28 ERA and looked a lot like the 2013 Sabathia who went 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA. During ’13 and ’14 Sabathia’s strikeout power was all but gone. It was almost like Sabathia shied away from firing the fastball when he needed it most, which resulted in his looking pedestrian at best.

It’s not uncommon for a power pitcher to lose velocity as he ages, but the good power pitchers stayed successful because they changed speeds and learned how to become more of a pitcher. Learning how to locate his pitches and changing speeds will help Sabathia adjust to not being able to just over power hitters anymore.

Sabathia’s days of being able to rip 97 MPH four seam fastballs past hitters are over, but he still can use his changeup to set-up his now 89-92 MPH fastball, which will help it get by hitters.

Location and using his changeup will be vital to the “new-Sabathia.” If he tries to be the power pitcher he once was, and/or loses confidence in the fastball when it gets hit, he will struggle again this season. Too often during the past two seasons Sabathia would get himself in a jam and look lost on the mound because he didn’t have the confidence to go with his fastball to get hitters out. Sabathia may have lost some velocity on his fastball, but it still can be his out pitch if he sets it up right.

Sabathia’s early inning struggles also seem to go hand-in-hand with the fastball issues. There have been few outings over the past two seasons where Sabathia came out strong and it seems to be as much mental as it is physical. The man can still pitch; he just needs to learn he is a different pitcher than he was at the peak of his career. Sabathia will never be a number one starter again, even though he is getting paid like one, but he can still be one of the best third pitchers in any rotation in baseball.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Sabathia were both pleased with Tuesday’s outing. “I liked the way the ball was coming out of his hand tonight,” Girardi said, “I just thought he threw the ball really well. I’m not worried about the runs he gave up because he’s still trying to work on things, obviously, but first step really positive for me.” Girardi is also excited to get one of the teams’ leaders back. “You miss his personality,” Girardi said. “There’s something about having him and knowing that he’s going every fifth day and it’s a good feeling in the clubhouse, the way he brings a clubhouse together because of his personality, I think you miss that.”

Sabathia was happy with the start, “Obviously, you don’t want to give up runs, but it being Spring Training, it is what it is,” Sabathia said. “But just being able to command the baseball and let it go, throw it hard, it feels good.”

The Yankees hitters look eerily familiar to the ’13 team, a team that ranked 20th in the league and averaged only 3.91 runs per game. With the Yankees punch less lineup looking worse than they did last season, the starting staff will be relied on more than they have in over a decade. The Yankees season will be won or lost on the mound; getting strong outings from Sabathia every fifth day will decide whether the Yankees break their two year postseason drought.

Follow Nik Swartz on Twitter @Sweetnesz13



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Nik Swartz
About the Author

Graduate of Penn State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication and Psychology, currently a counselor in Philadelphia. I started writing professionally in 1999 as the Penn State beat writer for the Milton Standard/Lewisburg Daily Journal in Pa. I have worked at eight daily newspapers as a Sports Writer/Editor - covering all high school sports, the NFL, professional baseball and professional hockey. A few sites I've written and/or contributed articles for include Rant Sports, Bleacher Report, FanSided and Pro Football Spot. Follow Nik on Twitter @Sweetnesz13.

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