By the third inning, CC Sabathia realized that he was not staying on top of his fastball.
Sabathia quickly remedied the issue and turned in 7 1/3 solid innings in last night’s 8-3 victory over the Twins at Yankee Stadium.
“I felt a lot better after the third,” Sabathia said. “My fastball command got a lot better. I stayed on top of it. My changeup got a lot better and my curveball was really good.”
“I think he started locating better,” manager Joe Girardi said. “That’s usually the key to pitching. I thought he found his fastball away to righties. His sinker I was thought was more consistent.”
The results showed in a big way.
After allowing a run-scoring single to Jamey Carroll with one out in the third on his fastball, Sabathia began rolling. He used his slider to strike out Joe Mauer, the first of 13 straight Twins he retired.
“He has a tendency during games to hit his stride around the third,” pitching coach Larry Rothchild said. “I guess the thought process helped. It’s not unusual for him to hit his stride and just take off.”
“It wasn’t necessarily he was that bad,” catcher Chris Stewart said. “It’s just he was that much better.”
The best from Sabathia came in the fourth inning. He needed just 10 pitches to retire Ryan Doumit, Danny Valencia and Trevor Plouffe. That stretch came the half inning after the Yankees scored four times on three singles and a sacrifice fly.
“You want to get them back in the dugout,” Sabathia said. “It’s a long inning and you want to get them back in the dugout and let these guys swing the bats.”
“I think it was important for him because he got on a roll,” Girardi said. “I think it got him on a roll and it got him feeling good about the pitches he was making. He just kept making them over and over and I thought it was real important.”
In the fifth, he recorded the first out with a slider, but then the next seven outs came via fastball. Sabathia’s run was disrupted by a walk to Plouffe and an error by Alex Rodriguez that allowed Luke Hughes to reach base, but he finished the inning with a slider to Alexi Casilla for a groundout.
Sabathia finished his 112-pitch outing with a nasty outside slider that made Thomas his seventh strikeout. That spot in the lineup originally belonged to Denard Span, but he was ejected in the third inning by plate umpire Greg Gibson, who also tossed Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire.
Sabathia’s outing gave the Yankees just their third quality start in 11 games. The others were Hiroki Kuroda’s near complete game on Friday and Ivan Nova’s shaky, two- run, 10-hit performance April 9 in Baltimore.
“You don’t want to be the guy that messes it up and hopefully we get on a roll,” Sabathia said. “We have a really good pitching staff.”
By the time the Twins had another runner off Sabathia, the Yankees had taken a 7-3 lead off Francisco Liriano. They added an Andruw Jones solo home run in the fourth and a Derek Jeter RBI single in the fifth.
The biggest hits came from backup catcher Stewart. Stewart is a lifetime .202 hitter and on the team more for his defense, but he got a good swing on a 1-1 fastball and poked it into left field for a two-run go-ahead single.
Stewart also added an RBI single in the seventh inning for his first career three RBI night.
“Not only was it one of my best nights, it also was in Yankee Stadium,” Stewart said.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.