Last time CC Sabathia started Game 1 of a division series, rain cut the start short. He came back three days later to start Game 3 and struggled. Then he pitched out of the bullpen three days after that, playing his part in the game that knocked the Yankees out of the postseason.
“It’s been a whole year,” Sabathia said. “I’ve pitched a whole season since then. I have more things to worry about than how I pitched against Detroit last year. I don’t take that into (tonight). I take the last three or four starts, five starts that I’ve had, and just try to build off that.”
Sabathia was as good as ever the last two week of the regular season. His final three starts lasted eight innings apiece, which eased some of the concern that came with the previous four bad starts. The Yankees are fully aware of just how good Sabathia can be, but his postseason record is spotty. He was awfully good in 2009, but he was a disappointment in 2010 and 2011.
Tonight, the Yankees again look for Sabathia to set the tone. Starting pitching seems magnified in the postseason, and Sabathia’s success or failure always seems to change the way people view the Yankees rotation. When Sabathia is pitching well, the rotation seems deep and strong. When Sabathia struggles, the rotation feels risky and uncertain.
“Coming here the first year and winning the World Series, then losing the ALCS, and then last year losing in the first round definitely makes you want to get back and work hard and try to get back to the World Series and win it again,” Sabathia said. “But this is the first step. It has been a little disappointing the past couple years. Hopefully we can turn it around.”
• Most roster decisions were finalized on Friday, meaning players were informed during the workout at Yankee Stadium. “No one really takes it very well,” Girardi said. “You can imagine the disappointment that would be in anyone when you’re not put on the roster.” Jayson Nix was essentially a lock for the roster if he was healthy, so the choice really came down to Derek Lowe and Eduardo Nunez. “(Cody) Eppley’s been here all year and he’s been good for us,” Girardi said. “That was a tough decision. And Andruw Jones, because we know the impact that he can put on a baseball. We decided to go with Nuney and Derek Lowe in those situations.”
• Girardi said he could use Lowe as an Eppley-type groundball pitcher against right-handers, or he could hold him back as a long man. “You’ve just got to see how the game’s going,” Girardi said.
• The Yankees are having Eppley, Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova keep throwing regularly just in case they need them. “Long-term, we’ve got big plans for (Nova), we really do,” Girardi said. “He’s won 28 games in the last two years for us, so he’s got to keep working, keep trying to get better and be prepared if we need him here.”
• Girardi said Nova’s lack of bullpen experience kept him out of the mix for a long relief job.
• On the other hand, Lowe’s postseason experience was a factor in him making the roster. “He’s been there where it’s been elimination, tough situations and done a really nice job,” Girardi said.
• Girardi made it sound like he’ll DH Nunez against the left-hander tomorrow, but he didn’t commit to that one way or the other.
• Brett Gardner is a full player, but his lack of recent at-bats makes it unlikely he’ll start a game. Girardi said the biggest thing is that Gardner can take an at-bat now, so Girardi doesn’t have to be as careful about inserting him in a game. He no longer has to have an extra pinch hitter waiting behind Gardner just in case his turn in the lineup comes up again.
• Nick Swisher fifth and Mark Teixeira sixth: “Right now that’s what I’m going to do,” Girardi said.
• Girardi expects Mariano Rivera to be with the team for home games during the postseason. No, he won’t be active.
• Buck Showalter said today that he considers Joe Saunders and Chris Tillman available relievers for these first three games. One of those will almost certainly start Game 4, but for now, they’ll be available out of the bullpen if necessary. “Both of those guys will be in the bullpen tonight, as will (Game 3 starter) Miguel González,” Showalter said.
Associated Press photos