While out with knee injury, CC Sabathia became crucial to the Yankees’ postseason chances

CC Sabathia1

Boy. When it rains, it pours. Brian Cashman delivered some bad injury news prior to last night’s game, announcing Nathan Eovaldi might not return until the postseason due to elbow inflammation. That’s assuming the Yankees make the postseason, of course. The GM also said Mark Teixeira is still on crutches and it’s unclear if he’ll return this year. Brett Gardner? He jammed his shoulder a few weeks ago crashing into the wall.

Greg Bird has stepped in and held down the fort while Teixeira has been out. Despite last night’s ugly game, I’m not sure anyone could have reasonably expected Bird to play this well in the middle of a postseason race in what is his first taste of the big leagues. Replacing Gardner is a bit more tricky even with expanded rosters, though he is expected to rejoin the lineup soon, possibly tonight. Hopefully he gets back on track with a healthy shoulder.

Replacing Eovaldi is another matter. It’s not possible to replace him, at least in the sense that the Yankees can’t replace the pitcher Eovaldi was after picking up the splitter, meaning the guy who had a 2.93 ERA (2.93 FIP!) in 12 starts and 73.2 innings following the disaster in Miami. That guy was awesome. Adam Warren is expected to step back into the rotation and it’ll take a few turns to get him stretched all the way back out. The timing is really bad.

Even with Warren coming back, the pressure is suddenly on CC Sabathia, who is scheduled to come off the disabled list and start tonight’s series finale against the Orioles. Sabathia spent the minimum 15 days on the DL and his importance to the team increased while he was on the shelf. Eovaldi’s hurt and both Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova have been inconsistent at best since returning from their injuries. Luis Severino has been awesome since he was called up, but he is only one pitcher.

Sabathia was kept in the rotation earlier this season simply because of his contract. That’s all there was to it. No contender who pushes the “World Series or bust” mantra keeps a pitcher with a 5.01 ERA (4.44 FIP) in his last 395.1 innings in the rotation because they think he’s one of their five best options. There was an argument to be made Sabathia was not even one of New York’s seven best starters at one point earlier in the season.

And yet he remained in the rotation because the Yankees were not ready to admit he’s a sunk cost. That’s fine. They can do whatever they want, they run and own the team. (And yes, I’m sure the Yankees were well aware Sabathia was hurting their chances of playing in the postseason. They’re not stupid.) Now the story is different. Now Sabathia will be in the rotation because the Yankees have no other choice. They’re out of pitching depth. It’s been stretched to the max.

I have little reason to believe Sabathia can be even an average starter going forward. I thought he would bounce back a bit coming into the season with a healthy knee, but that didn’t happen. I thought maybe Sabathia would improve as the season progressed and he shook off the rust after missing so much time last year, but that didn’t happen either. I’m not falling into the same trap again. If Sabathia contributes in a meaningful way going forward, it will be a surprise to me.

That said, I won’t ever doubt Sabathia’s effort level or his desire to help the team. He’s a leave it all out on the field type. Always has been and always will be. For better or worse, Sabathia is going to give the Yankees whatever he has, and at this point that’s all they can ask from him. Go out every fifth day, grind it out, and do what you can to help the team win. That’s all. There’s nothing more the Yankees can do. They’ve exhausted all their options.

In a way, Sabathia has a chance to redeem his season these next few weeks by pitching well and helping the Yankees get to the postseason despite all these injuries. He’s been The Guy before, any sort of pressure to win won’t be new to him, it’s just a matter of being able to get outs with a compromised knee and whatever’s left of his fastball. Sabathia’s a total gamer and right now the Yankees need him more than they’ve needed him at any point in the last three seasons. CC is suddenly a key piece of the rotation.

Game 134: Nasty Nate and the Rays

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees have won six times in their last seven games and have gained one whole game in the standings. Stupid juggernaut Blue Jays. Nothing the Yankees can do about that though. They just have to win their games and everything will take care of itself.

Nasty Nate Eovaldi is on the mound this afternoon looking to rebound for a bumpy start against the lowly Braves last time out. He has a 3.32 ERA (2.84 FIP) with fewer hits allowed (73) than innings pitched (78.2) in 13 starts since the disaster in Miami. Pretty awesome. Keep it going, Nate. Here is Tampa Bay’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. LF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. RF Carlos Beltran
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. C John Ryan Murphy
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Brendan Ryan
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

Great weather in New York today. Nice and sunny, no clouds, temperatures in the upper-70s/low-80s. Pretty great. This afternoon’s game will begin 1:05pm ET and you can watch on FOX Sports 1. No YES, WPIX, or FOX. Just FOX Sports 1. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (stomach) is still a bit dehydrated and remains day-to-day with flu-like symptoms. He may be available to pinch-hit today … CC Sabathia (knee) feels fine after yesterday’s simulated game and the plan remains for him to come off the DL to start Wednesday.

Game 133: Severino Friday

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees are back home and they’ll be home for a while. This is the start of a ten-game homestand against three division rivals, all of whom have some sort of postseason aspirations. The Rays may be ten games back in the AL East, but they are only 4.5 games back of a wildcard spot. October isn’t out of reach yet.

Young Luis Severino will be on the mound tonight for his sixth big league start and his third at home. The Yankees are 2-3 in his five starts but that’s not Severino’s fault. He has a 2.17 ERA. They just don’t score for him. The Yankees have scored 15 runs in his five starts — six in one game! — and only eight when Severino was actually on the mound. They owe him. Here is Tampa’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Luis Severino

It is cloudy in New York but there is no rain in the forecast. It’s pretty cool too. Temperatures have been in the low-80s all day and will dip into the 70s tonight. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: CC Sabathia (knee) threw approximately 60 pitches in a simulated game this afternoon with a heavier brace and felt “great.” The Yankees will see how he feels in the coming days, and if all goes well, he’ll start Wednesday … in case you missed it earlier, Mark Teixeira (leg) was placed on the 15-day DL. It was a procedural move to get Nick Rumbelow back on the roster before his ten days were up. Teixeira, by the way, is still on crutches but said he “100%” expects to play again this season.

Game 130: Back in Boston

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

These late-season series with the Red Sox used to have a lot more pizzazz, you know? That was back when both teams were in contention. The last few years either the Yankees or Red Sox — or both, in the case of last season — were out of the race, and the games didn’t have the same intensity they once did. Don’t get the wrong, the games are still pretty intense, just not as intense as they were seven or eight years ago.

Anyway, this season the Red Sox are out of contention while the Yankees remain atop the wildcard standings and are a good series away from being in first place in the AL East. They took care of business in Atlanta over the weekend, but the Red Sox are better than the Braves, so this series won’t be easy. It never is when these two teams meet. Here is Boston’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. RF Carlos Beltran
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Brendan Ryan
    RHP Ivan Nova

Nice day in Boston. A little cloudy but not much, and there’s no rain the forecast. It’s warm too. Temperatures are in the mid-80s and won’t drop into the 70s until late tonight. The game is scheduled to begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Yanks-Sox is still Grade-A ESPN fodder. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Mark Teixeira (leg) is not feeling better so the Yankees sent him back to New York for tests. He’s out for this series. “We’re not happy with where he’s at. Just trying to get him healthy,” said Joe Girardi. The Yankees really Metsed this one by not putting him on the DL … CC Sabathia threw approximately 30 pitches in the bullpen today. It was his first time throwing off a mound since landing on the DL. He’ll likely throw one more bullpen session before facing hitters. Also, Brian Cashman said he expects Sabathia to return as a starter, not a reliever.

Game 129: Finish the Sweep

There's a lot going on in this photo. (Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have played well for long stretches at times this season, and today they’ll try to earn their eighth sweep of at least three games in 2015. That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Eight sweeps? The 2013-14 Yankees had 13 sweeps total, and the 2009 Yankees had eleven sweeps, so I guess eight isn’t a ton. Kind of a normal amount.

Nathan Eovaldi, who is at least in the conversation for staff ace right now, will be on the mound this afternoon looking to clinch that sweep. The Yankees have taken care of business against the Braves these last two days, but the series isn’t over yet, there’s still one more win sitting out there. Here is Atlanta’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 1B Greg Bird
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It has been raining for much of the morning in Atlanta, but the forecast says the showers are supposed to clear out by game time. Then they’ll come back later this afternoon, hopefully after the game ends. We’ll see. This afternoon’s game is scheduled to begin at 1:35pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: CC Sabathia (knee) received a cortisone shot Thursday and played catch both Thursday and Saturday. There is no firm timetable for Sabathia to throw off a mound. Just catch for now … nothing new to pass along about Mark Teixeira (leg). He’s on antibiotics to get rid of the inflammation and won’t do anything until it clears out.

Thoughts following CC Sabathia’s injury

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Two days ago the Yankees placed CC Sabathia on the 15-day DL with right knee inflammation after he left Sunday’s start in the third inning. He does not need surgery, so that’s good, and Sabathia is hopeful he can return once the 15 days are up. We’ll see. I have some thoughts about the injury and stuff, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Sabathia has been very bad this year — 5.27 ERA (74 ERA+) and 4.82 FIP in 138.1 innings — and it’s easy to think the Yankees are better off without him, but remember, they only have four healthy starters right now. Michael Pineda and Bryan Mitchell are both on the DL, and while Pineda is set to return today, Andrew Miller‘s injury earlier this year is a reminder Pineda might not be 100% effective when he first returns. Hopefully he is. Adam Warren could move back into the rotation if need be but he’s not stretched out. He’s thrown more than 35 pitches just twice in the last two months. Removing an ineffective starter from the rotation is a good thing! Assuming you have the depth to replace him. Do the Yankees? Only if Pineda and Mitchell come back from their injuries with no issues, which are big ifs. The rotation was stretched thin even before Sabathia got hurt. Injuries are rarely — very rarely — a good thing.

2. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman indicated the Yankees will shelve their plan to use a six-man rotation in September following Sabathia’s injury, but I’m sure they’ll still insert a spot sixth starter whenever possible. It’ll be much easier to pull off once rosters expand a week from today. They could plug Mitchell — assuming he’s healthy! — or Warren into the rotation once in a while and have all the call-ups serve as innings-eating arms. The Yankees have used a spot sixth starter whenever possible this season, even when it meant playing with a short bench or a short bullpen, so there’s no reason to think they won’t do it after the Sabathia injury. It just means Mitchell or Warren will make those starts and someone else will be the long man in the bullpen. So the Yankees sacrifice a good bullpen piece to plug their rotation hole. Maybe that’s a sacrifice they can afford to make in September.

3. It’s impossible to know what the injury means for Sabathia and the Yankees long-term. Clearly the knee will have to be managed going forward, but we knew that already. I’m not sure the injury changes anything in that regard. Sabathia said he is willing to pitch out of the bullpen, and that’s great, so maybe that’s where his future lies. Perhaps this latest scare convinced him the knee simply won’t hold up for 100 or so pitches every fifth day. The injury definitely won’t push Sabathia into retirement, I’m pretty confident about that. For starters, he’s not leaving on all that money on the table. It wouldn’t be honorable, it would be stupid. Secondly, Sabathia’s not just going to quit and go out like that. This guy has pitched through everything and is a top of the line competitor. Like tippy top of the line. They’re going to have to drag him off the mound. The Yankees reportedly have insurance on Sabathia’s contract but the exact details are unknown. The policy might only cover his arm for all we know. Insurance usually doesn’t kick in until after a certain number of days missed — the Mets didn’t collect any insurance on David Wright until he missed 60 days, for example — and it might not kick in at all this year since the season is almost over. One thing at a time though. Sabathia’s injury means the Yankees are short a pitcher right now. We’ll have an entire offseason to wonder what it means for the 2016 Yankees. (And 2017 Yankees!)

4. Sabathia’s velocity had ticked up in his recent starts …

CC Sabathia velocity… and he admitted Sunday the added velocity was the result of a “screw it” mentality. Sabathia told Ken Davidoff he had been pitching through knee discomfort and a recent cortisone shot provided minimal relief, so he decided to simply air it out because holding back and trying to protect the knee wasn’t working. The options were a) pitch poorly while trying to protect the knee, or b) put the knee at risk and maybe pitch more effectively. Sabathia did (a) for much of the season, changed over to (b), and it lasted only a few starts. What an awful situation. Either pitch poorly with reduced stuff or increase the injury risk with no guarantee of performing better.

5. Gosh, how much pain must Sabathia have been in to come out of the game like that Sunday? This guy pitches through everything. Sabathia pitched through the bone spur in his elbow back in 2012 even though he couldn’t fully extend his elbow and had limited range of motion. He suffered a Grade II hamstring strain in a September 2013 game and finished the start. Sabathia came right out of Sunday’s game and didn’t try to throw a test pitch or even lobby to stay. He must have been in some serious pain. Criticize his pitching all you want. Sabathia’s always been a team first guy who never didn’t take the ball. To bow out of a game without a fight like that tells you he’d reached the breaking point with his knee. It was too much.

6. The Yankees signed Sabathia to his five-year, $122M extension during the 2011-12 offseason, and he’s now ended each season of the contract injured. In 2012 he had the bone spur in his elbow. In 2013 it was the hamstring. Last year it was his knee surgery, and this year it’s the knee again. (Well, I guess he might not finish this season hurt, but you know what I mean. He’s had physical problems each year.) Sabathia was very much on the Hall of Fame track before these injuries started to set in, and, after all the concern about all those innings on his arm, it’s his legs that are giving out. The bone spur in his elbow has been his only arm injury. Remember when everyone was worried about A.J. Burnett‘s durability when the Yankees signed him? He was healthy during his entire contract and then some. Pitchers, man. They all seem to get hurt, but predicting how and when and why is an exercise in futility.

CC Sabathia doesn’t need knee surgery, open to pitching out of the bullpen in September

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

One day after being placed on the 15-day DL with right knee inflammation, CC Sabathia went for a second opinion today, which confirmed he has no new damage in the knee. It’s simply some arthritic stuff that requires rest. Sabathia does not need surgery, neither now nor in the offseason.

Sabathia told reporters he hopes to return to the team after his 15 days are up, and added he is willing to pitch out of the bullpen should the Yankees ask. “Helping the team any way I can,” he said. For what it’s worth, Joe Girardi said moving Sabathia to the bullpen is something they won’t discuss until CC is actually healthy enough to pitch again. Makes sense.

The overall numbers are ugly this year (5.27 ERA and 4.82 FIP in 138.1 innings) but there is reason to think the 35-year-old Sabathia could be effective in relief. For starters, he still destroys lefties, holding them to a .180/.209/.291 (.218 wOBA) batting line with a 30.4% strikeout rate this year. Secondly, Sabathia is at his best the first time through the lineup (via Baseball Reference):

Split G PA R H 2B 3B HR BB SO SO/W BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip sOPS+
1st PA in G, as SP 24 215 21 51 8 0 8 15 42 2.80 .258 .313 .419 .732 .291 108
2nd PA in G, as SP 24 209 30 60 5 2 7 11 44 4.00 .314 .351 .471 .822 .368 126
3rd PA in G, as SP 22 167 25 51 4 2 11 9 24 2.67 .331 .370 .597 .967 .333 150
4th+ PA in G, as SP 7 12 1 2 0 0 0 2 3 1.50 .222 .333 .222 .556 .286 53

Righties have crushed Sabathia this season (.388 wOBA!), but, if he’s limited to facing mostly lefties in one or two innings bursts, it’s possible he’ll be an effective reliever. Not just effective, maybe even really good. A late-inning weapon.

Sabathia has made just one career relief appearance and that was in Game Five of the 2011 ALDS, when Ivan Nova got hurt and had to leave after two innings. CC allowed a run in 1.1 innings. Moving to the bullpen — if it happens, of course — would take a bit of an adjustment on his part, though September is a good time to work through those issues thanks to expanded rosters.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Sabathia was just placed on the DL yesterday, so he’s at least two weeks away from being activated. That assumes his knee heels up quickly. We’re just going to have to wait and see. Hopefully Sabathia gets healthy soon and the team has to make a decision about his role because everyone else on the staff is healthy and pitching effectively.