Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How Reassuring Was Sabathia's First Spring Start?

Last week, I examined Masahiro Tanaka's first spring start and came away feeling optimistic about the Yankees ace. Today, let's take a look at the team's former ace, CC Sabathia, and how he fared in his first outing in almost a year.

After two innings by Sabathia, it's time to react (and overreact!). Here are six CC-related questions to ponder as we approach Opening Day.

1) CC seemed healthy, at least. Did he pitch really well?
In the words of Borat, "Not so much." Sabathia allowed two runs in as many innings, although he said his bum knee felt fine. According to scouts behind home plate, he threw his fastball in the 90-92 miles per hour range. He threw a few nice pitches, fanning two Blue Jays before getting roughed up in the second. Not horrible, but not vintage CC either.

2) But this was CC's first start in over 10 months. Can we expect him to gradually approach his old production?
Sabathia hasn't been an above-average pitcher since 2012. He threw at least 180 innings in 13 straight seasons, beginning in 2001 and climaxing in '08 when the Brewers treated him like Balto and rode him to the playoffs. The past few years, including the knee injury that CC suffered last season, are the bill the Yankees must pay for all the work the lefty put in over the years.

For years, fans and media members called CC a "horse." Well, even Secretariat eventually got put out to pasture. It doesn't look like his Verlanderian* slide will stop anytime soon. So, no, we shouldn't expect Sabathia to ever approach his old performance.

*"Verlanderian" sounds like a race of people encountered by Gulliver.

3) Is "nervous" code for "bad at pitching now"?
In the article I linked to in the first paragraph, Wallace Matthews included this quote from Sabathia: "I was, I mean, really nervous...That was kind of weird, but I think it’s just be being back out here and wanting to be with my teammates and just being my first game. I never really kind of settled in." So nerves are the reason Sabathia gave up four hits in the second inning? I don't buy it. Sure, CC hasn't pitched in a long time, but this is a guy who's taken the mound in some of the biggest games on some of the biggest stages. If he was nervous, I bet it's because a little self-doubt has started to creep in.

4) Can CC even be a No. 3 starter?
Sabathia may have touched the mid-90s on the radar gun during Tuesday's outing, but his velocity has declined steadily over the past few seasons. CC claims that he wants to start pitching more like his close friend Andy Pettitte -- who remained above average into his forties -- but prime Sabathia relied on his heater a lot more than prime Pettitte did. If CC can even put up league average production behind Tanaka and Michael Pineda, the Yankees will have to be satisfied with that. Because with the amount of miles on CC's odometer, we shouldn't be shocked if the big lefty starts emitting fumes soon, like Otis from Cars 2.

5) Enough negativity. CC's still cute, right?


So he's got that goin' for him. Which is nice.

6) So, what's the verdict? How reassuring was Sabathia's first spring start?
I don't mean to be a Negative Nancy here, but I am a Nervous Pervis whenever I think about this Yankees rotation. I guess it's good that Carsten Charles seems healthy, and I love him and hope he performs well this season. Still, it's hard to see the $53 million remaining on the 34-year-old's contract as anything but one of the worst salbatrosses in all of baseball.

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Follow FranT on Twitter at @frantweet and follow Brian Kavanaugh at @btkav

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