Given the option of facing a divisional opponent or pitching in a minor league game, CC Sabathia chose the minor leagues. Then he went to the complex, gave up a long home run on his first pitch, and allowed a three-run home run two innings later.
While Sabathia insists he feels better than he’s felt in years, he’s already allowed five home runs in three spring outings and his official 11.57 ERA — which doesn’t count today’s four runs in five innings — is the highest on the team.
“I don’t give a (darn) what stock they put in it,” Sabathia said, using a word far more racy than darn. “It is what it is. I’ve had spring trainings where I’ve given up a lot of runs and went out and had a good season. I’ve had spring trainings like last year where I didn’t give up no runs, and I gave up five in the first game. Y’all can put stock in whatever you want. I’m not really worried about it.”
Sabathia is defiant that this spring has left him feeling confident. He’s said his surgically repaired right knee feels strong, and his velocity has been legitimately higher than in recent springs. He’s consistently reaching 92-93 mph with his fastball, and his offspeed pitches have been good if not consistent.
“You look at his stuff,” Joe Girardi said. “You try to evaluate his stuff and how you feel about that. What we’ve seen this year is much more positive than what we’ve seen the last (few years), you know, in velocity, the discrepancy between that and the change up and slider, so now to me it’s just ironing out and being more consistent.”
It’s not particularly unusual for a pitcher to not want to face a division team in spring training, but by passing on a start against the Orioles, Sabathia was left open to obvious questions about a five-inning, four-run start against minor leaguers. He walked two and struck out seven.
“Today was a day when we were trying to work on the changeup,” Sabathia said. “I get runners on first and second or whatever it was (and threw) a couple of changeups. Me and (catcher Brian McCann) wanted to work on it so I threw it again. The guy hits a homer. I probably won’t throw it like that in a game.”
McCann noted that he’s seen Sabathia get stronger from start to start. He said he really sees that added strength late in games. McCann said Sabathia’s stuff was basically the same in today’s fifth inning as it was in the first inning.
“The ball was coming out great,” McCann said. “I thought he threw the ball great. Two-seamer was running really good. Ambushed a couple of hits, but all in all, I thought the ball was coming out fantastic. … When you go over there, you’re not pitching to scouting reports. You get guys set up, and then you think you can get something in there, and they hit it. But all in all, I thought changeup was really good, fastball to both sides of the plate, and the slider was great today.”
Sabathia has one more spring start before he pitches the third game of the regular season.
“I was able to go out there five times and pitch five innings and feel great,” he said. “Like I said, I haven’t had any problems. I’m just looking forward to getting into the season and trying to help this team.”
• Alex Rodriguez raised his slash line to .306/.405/.583 and hit his team-leading third home run in a 10-2 loss to Baltimore. “Numbers mean nothing,” Rodriguez said. “But you definitely want to pass the eye test. That means moving around better, putting balls in play, and hitting balls in the mid-90s. Those are things I haven’t done in over a year and a half, so everything for me this year – this spring, at least – is a test.”
• While the numbers might not mean much in the grand scheme of things, they do seem to provide some hope that Rodriguez might have something left. It was one thing when he was drawing walks and getting into good counts early in spring training, but now he seems to be putting together good and productive at-bats even in the final week of exhibition games. “Overall, it’s just repetition,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve said it all along. Any time you can keep adding up at-bats, it’s a good thing.”
• While his first two spring home runs left plenty of doubt off the bat, today’s was clearly gone from the moment Rodriguez made contact. “That one felt good,” he said. “I was excited about that one.”
• Plan is still to have Rodriguez start at first base tomorrow.
• More good news on Jacoby Ellsbury, who came through today’s batting practice with no problems. He’s scheduled for more BP tomorrow and remains on track to play a minor league game on Tuesday.
• No real update on Jose Pirela. “I don’t know what he did today,” Giradi said. “He said he felt better. I didn’t ask him what he did today.”
• Sabathia is certainly not the only Yankees pitcher putting up numbers that aren’t exactly encouraging. Dellin Betances has now allowed a run in five straight outings. He had one walk, one strikeout and allowed a single today. “I’ve been leaving the ball up,” Betances said. “When I get ahead, I leave the ball up. Today, the contact wasn’t as hard. Obviously the first guy I fell behind 3-1 and he had a good swing, but after that, I felt like I threw some good pitches. I’ll be ready.”
• Betances said he’s been working on his leg kick with Larry Rothschild. Concerning that, after being so good last year, he’s having some mechanical issues this spring? “It’s not like I’m missing as bad as I once was (in the minor leagues),” He said. “I’m around the zone. I felt way better even before I came in. I felt like my direction was better, something I’ll try to work on more. As that gets better, I think I’ll be able to throw more strikes and put guys away.”
• Giradri said he was encouraged because Betances had a better breaking ball today. “It’s not what you want,” Girardi said. “But one thing you always talk about a lot is don’t judge people on spring training, right? Sometimes a different beast comes out Opening Day. If this was happening the first month, you’d say, OK, what’s going on? But, I thought he was better today, and I think when the season starts, he’ll be right.”
• Speaking of bullpen guys, Andrew Bailey had another scoreless inning today. Chasen Shreve also pitched a scoreless inning. Those were the pitching bright spots for sure. Otherwise, it was kind of a mess today. Jacob Lindgren allowed his first earned run of the spring. Chris Martin struck out two but let two inherited runners score on a double. Justin Wilson got three strikeouts, but those were hit runners that scored on Martin’s watch.
• Worst pitching line of the day belonged to Scott Baker, who seemed to pitch himself into the roster conversation with a strong outing against the Mets last weekend. This time he had a clean first inning before allowing five runs on five hits including a homer in the second inning. “Physically, I felt great,” Baker said. “First inning, I made some good pitches. Then in the second inning, they found a couple holes and then they got the big hit. Maybe out of the stretch a little bit I was kind of feeling for it, but overall, I felt good. The results don’t necessarily show how I felt.”
• Over at the miner league complex, Bryan Mitchell was hit by a Gary Sanchez throw to second base. He finished the outing and is apparently fine.
• Despite the fact Esmil Rogers is making tomorrow’s road trip to pitch out of the bullpen, Girardi still wouldn’t name a fifth starter today. “Actually we’re going to sit down and talk today about what we’re going to do,” Girardi said.
• Here’s Sabathia talking about Masahiro Tanaka being chosen for Opening Day: “I’m excited for him. I think it’ll be a good deal. I know he’s excited to get a chance to do that. I’m excited to get a chance to be able to enjoy Opening Day. It should be fun.”
• Final word goes to McCann, who’s predictably staying optimistic about underperforming pitchers: “Spring training is not (the regular season),” McCann said. “Adrenaline plays a huge factor in results. You run out of the bullpen with 50,000 people in the stands, if you’re throwing 94 (in spring training), you’re going to throw 97, 98. Adrenaline plays a huge factor in both sides, hitting and pitching. When the lights turn on, it’s a whole other ball game.”
Associated Press photos