When CC Sabathia notched his 100th win as a Yankee on Friday night, it was more than just a frivolous personal milestone. It was the continuation of an uphill battle that Sabathia’s been fighting for quite some time now, as the aging southpaw attempts to reinvent himself as a finesse pitcher rather than the overpowering flamethrower he was earlier in his career. Add to that the problems that Sabathia’s had combating an addiction to alcohol, a situation that eventually led him to check into a rehabilitation clinic last October, and it’s amazing that he can still pitch at the major league level, let alone thrive as he has this year.
“When I take a look at CC, he’s not the same pitcher he was in Cleveland,” Carlos Beltran told reporters after Friday night’s 8-3 victory over Oakland. “But…he knows that he has to make adjustments. Now he has great stuff to compete in this league for many, many years.”
Not even the most optimistic of Yankee fans could have expected Sabathia to be the best pitcher in the rotation not named Masahiro Tanaka this season, but Sabathia has delivered by posting a 3-2 record with a very respectable 3.41 ERA through his first six starts. What made his performance in Oakland especially impressive was that fact that it was his first start since hitting the DL due to a groin strain, an injury that he pitched through during his masterful performance against Baltimore on May 4 in which he put up seven scoreless innings.
“I just kinda got in a groove as the game went on,” Sabathia told reporters on Friday. “I threw some good two-seamers, and I got some swings and misses early, so that gave me the confidence to keep throwing it.”
Sabathia later added, “When I feel good, I know what I’m capable of doing.”
Brian McCann, Sabathia’s battery-mate, was effusive with praise after Friday’s win. “[Sabathia] could do anything he wanted,” McCann told reporters. “He had everything working…he had them off-balance from the first pitch.”
McCann also noted the different style that Sabathia’s employed this season.
“He’s a completely different pitcher,” McCann said. “He’s got a way better feel for the cutter.”
McCann continued, “That cutter’s a huge pitch for him, both sides of the plate. He’s locating with it…he’s keeping hitters off balance. When he’s doing that, he’s getting quick outs. Then he’s dropping the backdoor slider in there and getting changeups rolled over. He can win a lot of ballgames pitching like that.”
Sabathia has said his goal is to reach 200 innings this season, something he’s done eight times in his career but not since 2013. At this point, it would unwise to rule it out.
“He’s capable,” McCann said. “Check the back of his baseball card. There’s not too many guys walking around with his resume and his heart and his determination to be great. You never count guys like that out.”