Joe Mauer is hitting .323 with the highest on-base percentage in the Majors. He could get some bottom-of-the-ballot MVP votes, and he’s been red hot in September. The Twins No. 3 hitter came into this afternoon hitting .444 in his past 11 games.
Mauer faced CC Sabathia four times today. In his first three at-bats, he struck out on three pitches. In his last at-bat, he rolled over a first-pitch groundout.
“I think every team looks at their No. 1 and is like, this is the guy we have to win with,” Eric Chavez said. “(Sabathia)’s definitely that guy for us. It was good to see him have back-to-back starts where his stuff was really good. I think if you were to look at one hitter, you look at Mauer and what he was able to do to him today. It tells you how good his stuff is.”
One strong start is good, two is better, and the Yankees now seem to have their ace back. After four starts that raised serious questions about Sabathia’s workload, health and whether he was running out of gas down the stretch, he’s now delivered consecutive gems. Today he struck out 10, walked one and allowed seven hits, all of which were singles. Of his 118 pitches, 89 were strikes.
“This is what he can do, he can string a bunch of good ones together,” Joe Girardi said. “We said if there’s a time, now’s the time. … I’ve never been a guy that didn’t believe in CC. He just wasn’t able to get on that roll that we’ve seen (in the past). He had a couple DL stints that interrupted his season. He had some good months before he went on the DL the first time, and we saw some good starts after he came off the DL the first time, but it’s nice to see him put a couple back-to-back.”
Sabathia’s slider was terrific today, and he was pounding the zone. Chris Stewart said he had no idea what the numbers were, but “it felt like everything he threw was in the strike zone and they were either fouling it off or swinging and missing.”
It was the Sabathia of old, and Sabathia said there was a reason for that. He said nothing has changed. He didn’t make a big mechanical adjustment. He doesn’t feel any different than he did three weeks ago. He can’t tell that his arm feels any more rested because of the missed starts while on the DL.
“It’s a good and bad thing getting time off,” he said. “Everybody said it was a great thing for me to have time off, it got me rested, then I go out and not pitch well and I’m not as sharp. I feel good. I feel the same. And this is the thing, I always feel good, especially late. It’s just one of those where I’ve had the time off, where I don’t have as many innings, but I feel the same. I can’t really tell you that I feel any different than I have the past couple of years.”
For the Yankees, the same thing is a good thing. It means their big man is back.
• Alex Rodriguez said he got “a lot of ice” today, and because the Yankees had the game under control, he never had to test his sore left foot to decide whether he could have pinch hit if necessary. He and Girardi remain hopeful that Rodiguez will be back in the lineup tomorrow. “Even feeling good, four days on turf is a little tough on a lot of our guys,” Rodriguez said. “That’s never something where you have a lot of fun.”
• Mark Teixeira went through his usual drills down in Tampa today, and he could play in an intrasquad game as early as tomorrow. “He ran a little bit harder today and felt pretty good,” Girardi said.
• Twins starter Samuel Deduno left today’s game in the second inning because of some sort of irritation in his left eye. The Twins then called left-hander Brian Duensing out of the bullpen. That meant the Yankees had their left-heavy lineup facing a lefty. “I actually ran up and checked to see the most pitches he had thrown recently in the last month was 40,” Girardi said. “So you figure, it’s one time through your lineup. You start changing, it may be too early, so we decided to kind of stay with it. Some of our lefties had had some success off him.”
• It was against Duensing that the Yankees scored six runs in the third, with the big hits coming from lefties Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. For Cano, it seemed like a significant step forward. He’s struggled lately, especially against left-handers, but he built on yesterday’s three-hit game with two doubles this afternoon. “It’s really hard when you struggle against lefties, because you know all they’re going to do is bring in a lefty from the pen,” Cano said. “But you’ve got to forget about what happened in the past, or the at-bat before, just go in there with a positive mind and try to get a hit.”
• Speaking of lefties having success, Chris Dickerson had another big day with another rare start. He singled off Duensing — he hit lefties much better down in Triple-A this year — then hit a long home run off right-hander Anthony Swarzak. “We had a lot of simulated games that got him at-bats for a while,” Girardi said. “We haven’t had any lately, but I think that really helped, to try to give him some at-bats and somewhat keep him sharp. It’s impressive what he’s done.”
• Rafael Soriano was playing catch on his own in the ninth inning, but Girardi had Dave Robertson legitimately getting loose in the eighth. He told him to just start throwing lightly just in case things got out of hand. “I would do it in June, too,” Girardi said. “You’re not going to let yourself get in that situation where it’s close and you’re scrambling to get guys ready. You tell them to go slow, give them the situation where they might come in — a couple guys get on, I might bring you in — that way they can kind of pace themselves down there.”
• David Aardsma was also getting loose late in the game, but Girardi said he was never really planning to bring him in. He preferred to get Cody Eppley some work. “Epp hasn’t been throwing a lot lately,” Girardi said. “I think it’s important to keep him going.”
• Speaking of guys getting a game. Brett Gardner played an inning of uneventful defense in left field. “I was a little nervous going out there,” Gardner said.
• Eric Chavez on his first reaction upon realizing there were only two outs after he stepped on third base in the fifth inning. “Oh s***!” Hard to argue with that.
• Girardi’s interesting take on the Chavez mistake: “Sometimes things work out right. If he throws the ball to second, I don’t think he turns the double play, then you have first and third. The ball gets by Stewy and they get another run. Sometimes it just works in your favor.”
• Swisher on his crazy spinning, diving, throwing play in the first inning: “I just felt that I had a good read on it, and I knew exactly what I was going to do when I got to the ball, so I felt a little more confident today than I did the other day. I felt like the other day I had a hesitation, and any time you have a little hesitation on a play like that, you either eat it, or throw it in the seats.”
• Final word goes to Swisher, talking about Sabathia’s outing: “I expect that. That’s what he’s brought here to do. He’s been on course for the last four years, and we don’t expect anything different. If he’s pitching great, or he’s pitching bad, the effort level is there. I think tonight shows what he’s capable of doing, and anytime we give him a cushion and some runs early, he really bears down and gets outs. In general, It just feels like those early September woes are out the door. I feel like we’re playing our best ball now, and this is the perfect time to be doing it.”
Associated Press photos