The Yankees received a performance from their ace that looked he had merely taken a two-week vacation, while they got another key home run from their unexpected left-field platoon.
CC Sabathia took a shutout into the seventh inning and Andruw Jones hit a three-run home run in the second as the Yankees moved 22 games over .500 with last night’s 6-1 victory over the Blue Jays.
Sabathia made his first start since allowing four unearned runs in a no-decision against the Mets on June 24. He looked more like the pitcher who pitched a complete game on June 18 against Atlanta and walked off the mound to a standing ovation after allowing a single to Adam Lind.
While some might have been surprised that someone could pitch so well coming off a 23-day layoff, there were no doubters found within the clubhouse.
“I expect to pitch well,” Sabathia said. “That’s just me. It was unbelievable not throwing in three weeks. I threw a lot bullpens and a couple of flat grounds, but it felt good. It felt good to contribute to a win.”
“He has such good command,” Nick Swisher added. “He has command of multiple pitches and that’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for a guy who not only can command his fastball, he can throw that fastball off the plate two or three inches inside and then back you into that slider. He’s got a lot of pitches — a plus changeup, a plus slider, a plus fastball and can really command. He knows what he’s doing. He has a plan and he goes out and executes it.”
Sabathia allowed four hits before five relievers recorded the final nine outs. Rafael Soriano threw just four pitches and got the save on a line-drive double play to Mark Teixeira with the bases loaded.
The lefty spent most of his return as a strike-throwing machine as 26 of his first 30 pitches were for strikes. Sabathia struck out six while throwing 66-of-87 pitches for strikes.
“It was just being able to calm down,” Sabathia said. “I think my changeup was a lot better than it was all year, probably the last year or two. When I’m able to command that my fastball is really good and I was working off of that.”
Sabathia’s 87 pitches were his lowest since throwing just 76 over six innings in a 10-0 rout of Seattle on Aug. 22, 2010. He was aided by not having to face Jose Bautista (wrist), but also helped himself by reaching ball two on just four of the 23 batters he faced.
“We knew we were going to get something close to what he did tonight,” catcher Chris Stewart said. “But that was above and beyond what we expected.”
Sabathia pitched virtually the entire night with a three-run lead that required one swing to attain.
Like Monday, that swing was provided from a member of the left-field platoon. Jones sent Brett Cecil’s 2-1 changeup into the left field seats for the Yankees’ 145th home run of the season. They now have scored at least three runs in 41 straight games.
“He’s been playing well,” Sabathia said. “He’s been coming up with big hits and big homers. That definitely took a lot of pressure off of me.”
More importantly it was Jones’s 12th home run and increased the combined numbers of Raul Ibanez and Jones to 24 home runs and 65 RBI.
“It’s really good,” manager Joe Girardi said. “You can platoon your left fielders in a sense and get a ton of production from them. It’s not just singles, they’re home runs with RBI and it really helps.”
While that duo has been productive in terms of RBI and home runs most of the year, it has heated up in July. They are a combined 16-for-53 (.302) with six home runs and 14 RBI after a month in which they were a combined 20-for-107 (.187).
“Bring what you can to the party,” Swisher said. “If you can only bring one case, bring one case. If you can bring two, bring two.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.