Four runs and four walks through five innings. In the short term, those are the CC Sabathia numbers that mattered this afternoon. He let the Red Sox bottom four hitters reach base in the second, which opened the door to a four-run inning, and that was pretty much the end of the line for the Yankees.
Big picture, though, these Sabathia numbers might have been of greater concern: A fastball that sat in the upper 80s and topped out at 91 mph.
“I think that was probably the case last year as well, early on,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Early on you don’t see a lot of velocity from him. It seems to take him really a month for that velocity to bump up. We saw 93s in spring training, so I think you’ll see it go up as time goes on, but we’re pretty used to seeing him not have the same velocity in April as he does in June and July.”
Sabathia’s velocity has always fluctuated quite a bit, and it’s true that he’s had a lot of early season starts when his fastball has been a bit slow. Of course, the diminished velocity stands out a little more this season for two reasons: 1. Offseason elbow surgery, and 2. A diminished Yankees lineup that puts pitching at a premium.
Sabathia addressed his health: “I’m sure that the velocity will keep coming back and the arm strength will keep building up the more I throw,” he said. “Health-wise, I feel fine, elbow, shoulder and everything. It’s just time I guess to build the arm strength back up. … It’s always what it is at the beginning of the year, 88 to 92. That’s what I’ll work with right now and hopefully it gets a little better.”
Girardi addressed the expectations: “I think it’s somewhat common for power pitchers. It’s been in his DNA his whole career. We deal with it and we understand it. We know what we’re dealing with. My feeling is, he’ll be better next time out. … The pitching is extremely important like it is every year. We have some new faces in the lineup that are going to get a chance to step up, and they’re going to have to do that for us. That’s the bottom line.”
• The Yankees low point came in the seventh when they were trailing by three and back-to-back walks brought the tying run to the plate with no outs. Eduardo Nunez, Robinson Cano and Kevin Youkilis — their 2, 3 and 4 hitters — each struck out to end the threat. “We didn’t capitalize when we needed to,” Youkilis said. “They got timely hitting — some of the balls weren’t hit that hard and some were — but timely hitting is the key. We just didn’t have that today.”
• This was pretty much the offensive display the Yankees critics were expecting and their fans were fearing. The team had just one extra-base hit — a Youkilis double — while striking out 10 times. Doesn’t help that eight of those strikeouts came from the top eight hitters in the order.
• Certainly unusual to see David Phelps pitch out of the bullpen when he’s currently in the rotation, but he’s still on track to start Saturday on normal rest, and the Yankees sent Phelps to the pen specifically so he would be available this afternoon. “I assumed I would be getting some work in,” Phelps said.
• Why got to Phelps in the sixth? “He’s a guy that pitched very well out of the bullpen for us,” Girardi said. “He was going to face some righties and some lefties, and that’s why I went to him. He’s used to seeing that kind of lineup.”
• Yankee Stadium was a ghost town by the end of the game. “In the end it was ugly out, on the field and off,” Vernon Well said. “So I don’t blame them for heading home a little early.” Or, as Francisco Cervelli put it: “If I was a fan and it started to rain, I would run, too.”
• One big pitch for Sabathia was the 1-2 pitch to Jackie Bradley Jr. in the second inning. Sabathia wanted the call, didn’t get it, and wound up walking Bradley in what turned out to be a huge inning for Boston. “I thought it was a strike,” Sabathia said. “But I still need to make better pitches whether he called it a strike or not. That’s no excuse for giving up the runs after. I just didn’t make the pitches.”
• Cervelli on Sabathia’s outing: “Early in the game, I say the key for CC is the fastball command. So we miss a couple pitches there, couple fastballs, in the second inning, but after that he was pretty good. But this is the big leagues. We need to make pitches all the time. We start to mix everything, a lot of changeups, the way we get back on the line. Only (allowed) four runs. We’ve got to hit.”
• Youkilis on his former teammate Jon Lester: “He’s a guy that’s going to throw his cutter, and if he’s commanding his cutter and getting guys to swing at the pitches he wants, that’s when he’s effective. He threw the ball well. There’s a lot to learn from it. We can bounce back. We’re going to face him a few more times, probably. Hopefully we’ll get him the next time. We got him out of the game, too. You want to get these pitchers out and we got his pitch count up, got him out of the game and he didn’t last too late. That was a good thing, we just didn’t get timely hitting. We need to get that the next time out.”
• Joba Chamberlain on his own rocky ninth inning: “Walks kill you. Just wasn’t making pitches. Got ahead early, just wasn’t able to finish them. Put up good at-bats, but that’s it. Walks kill you. Started off the inning well, but you can’t walk guys.”
• According to Elias Sports Bureau, this was the first Yankees opener without a switch-hitter in the lineup since 1992.
• Also from Elias, the Yankees snapped a Major League record streak of homering in 14 consecutive Opening Day games.
• Six players made their Yankees debut today: Youkilis, Wells, Ben Francisco, Shawn Kelley, Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay.
• Youkilis joined Johnny Damon and Wade Boggs as the only players to start an opener for the Yankees one year after doing so for the Red Sox since Steve O’Neill did it in 1925. “Yankee Stadium is a place where people dream to come play at,” Youkilis said. “It was very enjoyable to go out there. It stunk at the end to come up short, but this is a great place to play, great fans. We just didn’t play the best ball possible today to win a game.”
Associated Press photos