Sabathia has been Yanks’ shutdown starter during Tanaka struggles

CC Sabathia wanted to finish this one out, because at the age of 36, who knows how many more chances he is going to have left in his career to record the final three outs of a complete-game shutout.

But Joe Girardi would not let it happen. CC has simply been too valuable to the Yankees this season.

“There’s always temptation (to leave him in there), but as a manager and a pitching coach, you’re weighing the risk and reward there,” Girardi said after Sabathia went eight scoreless innings in the Yankees’ 8-0 victory over the Red Sox on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium. It was the first time since Sept. 21, 2012 against Oakland that the 17-year veteran had put up eight zeroes in a game. “We have a long way to go. He’s had some minor cleanups the last few years on his knee. He’s not 25. He’s not even 30 anymore. We just thought it was best to get him out.”

These days, Masahiro Tanaka starts potential losing streaks and The Big Lefty stops them.

Sabathia (7-2) has won his last five starts, which have all followed games the Yankees lost with Tanaka on the mound. Over that span, Sabathia is 5-0 with a 1.11 ERA while Tanaka is 0-5 with a 10.72 ERA. It’s as sensational as it is stunning.

Sabathia had a 5.77 ERA on May 9, a $25 million fifth starter in the final year of his deal, just hoping to keep his team in games. But he rediscovered his missing cutter the following outing, and has been on a tear ever since. His ERA now stands at 3.66. The team has a 10-2 record in his starts.

Projected to be the Yankees' fifth starter, veteran CC Sabathia has suddenly looked like the ace of the staff.

Projected to be the Yankees’ fifth starter, veteran CC Sabathia has suddenly looked like the ace of the staff.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

“There’s a long way to go, but it feels good to be contributing — that’s the biggest thing,” said Sabathia, who allowed just five hits, walked none and struck out five. “These guys have been playing well, and you just want to be a part of it.”

Sabathia has been through his share of ups and downs. From 2013-15, he posted a 4.81 ERA. He battled knee injuries. He battled alcoholism. He battled self-doubt.

“Obviously, getting hurt was the biggest thing, not knowing my future especially at my age,” Sabathia said. “To be healthy and to be able to repeat my delivery feels really good.”

In 2016, Sabathia figured it out, reinventing himself despite his diminished velocity. He went 9-12 with a 3.91 ERA. In 2017, it has been more of the same.

“He’s always been that guy that is a fierce competitor,” said Girardi, who has always believed in Sabathia, even in his lowest moments. “And when you have that in you, you have the ability to make changes and figure things out. And it took him some time to figure out what he had to do, but there’s a lot of heart in that guy.”

Masahiro Tanaka's well-documented struggles have the Yankees concerned, but at least CC Sabathia has given them some surprisingly quality outings of late.

Masahiro Tanaka’s well-documented struggles have the Yankees concerned, but at least CC Sabathia has given them some surprisingly quality outings of late.

(Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

On Wednesday night, Sabathia was economical, requiring just 95 pitches to beat the Yankees’ biggest rivals. In the fourth inning, the strap on his right knee brace broke. He faced two batters without it. He was nervous. So was Girardi. “It was scary,” Sabathia said, but he got through it.

The following frame — with the brace fixed and back on his knee — he fielded a bouncer off the bat of Jackie Bradley Jr. with his bare hand, making a highlight reel play. Sabathia went on to retire the final 12 hitters he faced.

“It means a lot,” Girardi said. “He’s pitched really well this year. He had a few starts where he lost his cutter, but he found it again, and it sets up everything for him. But I think he takes a lot of pride in it. He’s been that guy his whole career that you can turn to when you needed a big win, and he still does it.”

Sabathia is also getting victories off the field as well. Former USC and Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian said Sabathia helped inspire him to seek help with his own addiction to alcohol. Sarkisian reached out to Sabathia following his rehab, and the two remain in touch.

“It means a lot. I feel like I made the right decision,” Sabathia said. “It’s great to see him doing well. That’s not why I made the decision, but I’m happy that people can take a little bit from it.”

Right now, the Yankees are getting more than a little bit from Sabathia, who last night felt like he could have given just a little bit more.  

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