CC Sabathia did not show much during his first two turns through the rotation. The Yankees hardly blinked because they know he is as close to a sure thing as exists in their currently inconsistent rotation.
He showed by turning in eight outstanding innings in Sunday’s 6-2 win over the Tigers.
Sabathia allowed two runs and four hits while pitching beyond the seventh for the third straight start. In those starts, Sabathia has allowed nine runs and 15 hits while striking out 23.
The slow start is hardly anything new for Sabathia, who had a 4.73 ERA in his first month as a Yankee in 2009 and a 4.11 ERA for his career in April.
“I think we’ve seen him do it time and time again,” manager Joe Girardi said. “In spring training we talked about this is a guy that notoriously has got off to slow starts and not to evaluate him the first month of the season.
“So that gives me confidence that when he does get off to a slow start, he’s going to turn it around because he’s done it time and time again. I’ve seen it firsthand.”
Sabathia has been performing better in a rotation that has a combined 6.07 ERA through 21 games. His third straight win lowered his ERA to 4.58.
“Of course we have to pitch a lot better than we have — all of us,” Sabathia said. “It’s a luxury to pitch for the Yankees. We always want to take pride in how we pitch but we have to pitch a lot better.”
He has had a considerable turnaround from his first two starts when Sabathia gave up nine runs and 16 hits in 12 innings in road games to Tampa Bay and Baltimore.
The difference between those starts and the last three games has been command. Before beating the Twins on April 17, Sabathia described it as being bad.
“It’s been getting better,” Sabathia said of his command. “In the bullpens and in the games, I’ve been able to command it. I think that makes my off-speed stuff that much better.”
“Everything [was working],” Girardi said. “Fastball both sides, slider was good, changeup was good. He didn’t throw a lot of curveballs, but I felt for the most part, he controlled the swings by his location and changing speeds.”
About the worst thing you can say about Sabathia is that he made a horrible pitch to Prince Fielder, who crushed a first-pitch curveball into the second deck in right field. Sabathia’s second-worst pitch was a slider that he left over the outer edge of the plate to Miguel Cabrera in the sixth which he served into outfield for an RBI double.
The rest of Sabathia’s 106 pitches straddled the boundary between very good and outstanding, especially during the early stages of the afternoon and following Cabrera’s hit. He retired 10 in a row before Fielder’s home run and eight of the next nine hitters after Cabrera made it a one-run game.
Sabathia finished his best start with a flourish. He struck out Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch on sliders that just seemed to dip and dive out of reach before getting Cabrera to fly out to right field on the fastball.
“He threw the ball well today,” Derek Jeter said. “He shut them down. He was dealing today.”
“The big thing was he works both sides of the plate really well,” centerfielder Curtis Granderson said. “When he needs to get an out, he typically can get a strikeout. He didn’t give in to anybody, no matter who the hitter happened to be. He threw strikes [and] that’s the big thing.”
Sabathia pitched with such a slim margin because the Yankees had an inability to get anything going beyond the bare minimum with men on base until adding three runs in the seventh and eighth. They stranded 15, went 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position and 6-for-21 with men on base.
The Yankees scored on a bases-loaded walk, an infield single and solo home runs by Curtis Granderson and Andruw Jones. They also scored on a fielder’s choice and sacrifice fly.
Granderson’s eighth home run met the bare minimum for a home run because it was nearly tracked down by Austin Jackson. Jackson saved 43 runs in his first two seasons for the Tigers and nearly saved another with one out in the fourth
Jackson used his impressive vertical leap to go over the center field wall. For a split second, he appeared to maintain possession but the ball dropped out of glove and into the Yankee bullpen.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.