I fully expected CC Sabathia to destroy himself during tonight’s postgame interview. It’s what we saw a lot last year: Sabathia would routinely pitch poorly and then rip himself for about 10 minutes.
As you’ll see in the video above, tonight was different.
“It got out of hand early,” Sabathia said. “I’ve got 34, hopefully, more starts left. I’m definitely not going to pitch like I did tonight in the first two innings. I know I can pitch, and I know I can get guys out. I feel great. I’m not going to beat myself up about this.”
This was kind of two starts in one. In the first two innings, Sabathia was crushed. Granted, the Yankees defense was shaky behind him, but Sabathia was getting knocked around. Two home runs. A few hard-hit doubles. He allowed six runs before he got six outs, and he’d definitely earned those runs.
“We talked about his stuff wasn’t cutting in spring training,” Joe Girardi said. “It did the first couple of innings tonight. Whether that’s just being a little bit too hyped up or whatever it is, then he seemed to settle down after that. He seemed to figure it out.”
That’s true. After that brutal beginning, Sabathia pitched the next four innings without allowing another run. He retired 12 of the last 15 batters he faced, with one of the guys who reached getting on with a chopped infield single. Five of Sabathia’s six strikeouts came in the last four innings. He was better. He started throwing his cutter. His pitches did more of what he wanted. So what went wrong in those first two innings?
The guy who’s made 11 Opening Day starts said he couldn’t keep himself under control out there, and it’s not the first time. After this letdown, Sabathia now has a 6.12 career ERA on Opening Day.
“That’s been the toughest thing for me,” he said. “I do get so excited. I feel like I’m a kid again. I would sleep in my uniform if I could the night before Opening Day. I think it’s just the nervousness, the jitters, wanting to start the season off good so bad, I end up pitching bad.”
If that’s what happened tonight — if it was just a Sabathia-on-Opening-Day problem — then maybe it’s easy to move forward and move on to better things. But for a guy who’s already fending off questions about whether he’s still a true No. 1, this was no way to get started.
“I saw a couple of pitches on the (video monitor) and saw that they were cutting, and that’s not what we saw during spring training,” Girardi said. “He’ll iron that out. I’m not worried.”
· Derek Jeter is fine after being hit by a pitch in the first inning. Jeter said the ball got him on the left forearm, not the wrist or hand. “To be honest with you, I was nervous (before the game),” Jeter said. “Probably a little more nervous this year because I hadn’t played in a while. So when I got hit, I wasn’t nervous anymore. So it probably helped me out.”
· Brian McCann took a foul tip to the knuckle, but he was also fine. He was checked on the field but stayed in. Jeter also played the whole game. No tests for either of them.
· Jeter said he didn’t put much thought into this being his final Opening Day. “I really didn’t think about it like that,” he said. “I was nervous and anxious like I said, but I think it was more so because I just hadn’t been in an Opening Day in a long time, pretty much all of last year. I think it was more so that as opposed to it being the last one.”
· Jacoby Ellsbury said his calf was a non-issue and had nothing to do with Dexter Folwer’s leadoff double getting over his head in the first inning. “I didn’t even think about it, to be honest,” Ellsbury said. “He hit it pretty well, I thought I had a good bead on it, turned and ran, but kept him to a double. Sometimes those things go for triples.”
· Sabathia explained the mechanics of why his pitches were cutting in the early innings. “I wanted to try to back off and not overthrow,” he said. “When I do that, I tend to cut myself short and that’s when the balls cut. My changeup cuts, my fastball was cutting. It’s just me not really getting extended and letting the ball go out in front. It’s just cutting it off and that’s what makes it cut.”
· Sabathia said he didn’t really start throwing his new cutter until mid-game. “From the fourth inning on,” he said. “Fourth, fifth and sixth I started throwing the cutter and it was really good. Something me and Brian talked about: it’s horrible when I throw it in the bullpen, but regardless of what it is in the bullpen, when I get into the game it’s a pretty good pitch. We got some ground balls with it, got some swings and foul balls, got some early strikes. I think it will be in the mix a lot more going forward.”
· Looking for a positive from tonight, look at Mark Teixeira’s at-bats. He was batting left-handed all night and hit a lot of balls on the screws, including a deep fly ball to right field and a single to the left side of the infield. He went the other way! “I thought (his at-bats) were good,” Girardi said. “I thought he was patient. Thought he worked the count. Had good swings tonight. They were good.”
· More positive impressions from Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno, each of whom pitched a scoreless innings. Betances struck out two and Nuno struck out three. Nuno allowed one hit that I thought should have been called an error on Kelly Johnson (looked like he tipped a ball away so that neither he nor Jeter could make a play). “Really positive,” Girardi said. “I liked what I saw. They threw strikes. They worked quickly. Got strikeouts, both of them, so I was really pleased with what I saw.”
· I remember asking Eduardo Nunez once who were his closest friends in baseball. He said Robinson Cano and Jeter. “I just heard about (Nunez being DFA) probably 30 minutes before the game started,” Jeter said. “I’m not sure how all that works, but Nunie, I’ve had fun with Nunie throughout the years. He’s a great guy to have on the team, because he kept everyone loose. He’s always laughing.”
· Sabathia actually reached 1,000 Yankees strikeouts tonight, becoming the 12th Yankees pitcher to reach the milestone. He struck out six tonight and has 1,002 in his Yankees career. Next pitcher he’ll pass will be Roger Clemens, who had 1,014 strikeouts with the Yankees, then Al Downing at 1,028.
· Final word goes to Girardi: “You’re going to have these games during the course of the season. Obviously you don’t want it to be on your Opening Day, but we had it and it’s over with and we move on.”
Associated Press photos