It’s not often that a man as large as CC Sabathia gets overlooked, but coming into Sunday night’s series finale at Citi Field with the Mets, that is exactly the case. With the Mets sending knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to the hill (along with his 42 2/3 inning scoreless streak), the Yankees’ big lefty has turned into the forgotten pitcher.
Joe Girardi thinks that may appeal to Sabathia.
“I never doubt CC’s competitive side in whatever situation he’s in,” Girardi said with a smile when asked whether that could fuel Sabathia tonight. “It could.”
While Sabathia turned in a complete game, 10-strikeout effort in his last start on Monday against the Atlanta Braves, Dickey has been on a record-setting pace. He is the only pitcher since 1900 to throw back-to-back complete games while striking out at least 10 and allowing one hit or less. He has five straight starts in which he did not allow an earned run and notched eight strikeouts or more, which is also a major league record. He’s won his last nine decisions, and is the leading candidate to start the All-Star game for the National League.
“He’ll change speeds on it,” Girardi said of Dickey’s knuckleball. “He’ll throw his harder at times than other people did. I think the amazing thing about R.A. Dickey is the amount of strikes that he throws. I think that’s probably the most incredible thing. When you think about it, it’s a pitch that is supposed to be hard to control, but he seems to have pretty good control of it.”
Girardi makes an excellent point. Not only is Dickey’s knuckler considered to be revolutionary because he throws it harder than knuckleballers of the past (he gets it into the low 80s), but he has also displayed impeccable command. In 99 innings, he has only issued 21 walks and has not thrown a single wild pitch.
All of these factors make it difficult to imagine a pitching matchup juicier than this one.
“Anytime you have two guys pitching as well as these guys are pitching and they’re squaring off, it’s going to be fun to watch,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “It’s going to be a test for us to try to figure out how to score, but to me this is really the fun part of the game.”
• One of the topics that was discussed during Girardi’s press conference was whether or not batting practice is pointless when preparing for a guy like Dickey. It’s impossible to simulate the late movement on his knuckleball, so the Yankees won’t be able to get a feel for it until they step into the box against Dickey himself. “The chances of his knuckleball being similar are probably not real good,” Girardi said. “You can get a feel of the speed of it, but he changes speeds on it… It’s pretty hard to do, unless (Dickey) wanted to throw BP before the game.”
• So, Joe, how do you prepare? “I think it’s business as usual,” he said. “You’re going to see guys who have great changeups, and you’re going to see guys who have great curveballs. You don’t necessarily try to find a guy to throw BP who has a great changeup or a great curveball. BP is for getting loose. You know what you’re going to see when you get up there. If he’s on, he’s going to be tough to hit. That’s the bottom line.”
• Girardi was also asked if he felt there would be any carryover effect in the next few games from facing Dickey. “Not really,” he said. “I think if you saw a knuckleball on a consistent basis and then you had to see a guy throwing 93 or 94, that would be hard. But it’s only one day. I don’t think that the guys really have a problem.”
• Here’s Girardi on the advantages of having CC as his ace: “I think a lot of times your ace can change the complexion of how you use your bullpen the day before and the day after in a sense, because he’s left-handed. It gives me the liberty to use my left-handers a little bit more before he pitches. He’s the kind of guys who stops losing streaks and gives you distance. And it’s not just innings, it’s quality innings.”
• Collins also talked about the advantage of having a guy like Dickey in his rotation. Traditionally, throwing knuckleballs isn’t considered to be as taxing on your arm, and Dickey has been giving the Mets a ton of length. “No question about it. We say, ‘Hey look, we know he’s going to get the seventh,” Collin said. “If it’s one of those good nights where it’s really working, he’ll get to the eighth or ninth, so it changes the look of everything.”
• The Yankees lineup is pretty much the same that it’s been since Brett Gardner got hurt, except Chris Stewart will be catching instead of Russell Martin. Martin’s back stiffened up during yesterday’s game, but it sounds like he’s going to be OK. Girardi said he’s available, but he’ll try not to use him unless he has to. Girardi did mention wanting to get Martin back to catching CC soon, which has largely been Stewart’s responsibility of late. “I probably wouldn’t play him unless I had to,” Girardi said. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do today. As I’ve said, I want to get those two back together.”
• As has been a topic of conversation pretty much every day recently, Girardi was asked about his team’s reliance on the home run ball. Once again, the Yankees scored all of their runs in Saturday’s win via the long ball. It’s a dangerous way to live, but no team in the majors hits homers as well as the Yankees do. One would think that getting a player like Gardner back will give the team a bit more flexibility, because Girardi really doesn’t have too many other speed threats. “I’ve been OK with that,” Girardi said. “I understand that’s the type of club that we are… Guys are who they are, and it’s hard to ask guys to be something that they’re not. You’re probably not going to hit and run a lot with Teixeira, Swish or Al. You’re just not going to do it. You’re not going to ask guys like that to steal 25, 30 bases, because it’s just not good baseball. We’re built mostly around power. We’re a power club, and I’m OK with that. Last year we could run more because we had different parts, and I was OK with that too.”
• Collins heaped praise on the two left-handers out of the Yankees’ bullpen — Boone Logan and Clay Rapada. Both have been outstanding for what has shaped into an outstanding bullpen, even with the loss of Mariano Rivera. Collins also mentioned that he’ll continue to allow left-handed hitters Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy to face lefties out of the pen. “It’s nice to have a second left-handed pitcher, but they’ve got to be able to get some big outs,” Collins said. “They’ve got two guys who are very good. Rapada is really effective from the angle that he throws, and Logan when he’s on is throwing 95 with a power slider, so he’s tough to hit. They’ve got two good ones. There are guys from some other clubs – and I’m not going to mention names – but our guys aren’t scared when they’re coming in.”
• Girardi was asked if he feels like new closer Rafael Soriano has been overlooked due to the success of the rest of the bullpen. “I think people had more of an expectation of Soriano doing what he’s doing, then maybe what we’ve seen Eppley do or Rapada do in those situations, and the continued improvement of Boone Logan,” Girardi said. “These guys have all taken the next step, where Soriano has been a successful closer… I do think it gets lost a little bit.”
• Girardi sounded as if he’d be comfortable using David Robertson on consecutive days for the first time since he returned from the DL. “He says he’s OK,” Girardi said. “I told him to play catch and let me know how he feels.”
• Speaking of bullpens, the Mets are coming into this game short-handed. Closer Frank “Chicken” Francisco has been placed on the DL with a left oblique strain. Collins said that Bobby Parnell will assume that role. “When you lose that guy, it disrupts all of the pieces that you had in place to get there,” Collins said. “It puts guys in different roles and different situations… But we’re going to have to deal with it.”
• Girardi was asked whether or not he’s a fan of playing the Mets six times a year. “I’ve always felt it should be an odd number so that there’s a winner every year,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a tie. But I’m also a big believer in a balanced schedule.”
• Girardi was also asked about his thoughts on the Red Sox trading Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox today for utilityman Brett Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart. “When you look at what he did over there and the numbers that he put up on a consistent basis, going into this year you don’t necessarily think he’s going to be traded,” he said. “(Will) Middlebrooks has played very well, and they felt that they could make that move and improve their club.”
• Here’s the Mets lineup: 1. Torres (CF); 2. Tejada (SS); 3. Wright (3B); 4. Hairston (LF); 5. Duda (RF); 6. Turner (1B); 7. Cedeno (2B); 8. Thole (C); 9. Dickey (RHP).
Associated Press photos