For the first time as a Yankee and really for the first time in his career, CC Sabathia battled pitching mortality in 2012. He is one of the game’s preeminent workhorses, throwing at least 230 innings every year from 2007-2011 and at least 190 innings in ten of his 12 seasons as a big leaguer. His career-low was 180.1 innings back in 2001, when he was a 20-year-old rookie. He hit the DL twice this year, including once with an arm injury. After the season, Sabathia had surgery to remove a bone spur from his left elbow.
During a recent radio interview, pitching coach Larry Rothschild discussed his ace left-hander’s workload and the team’s intent to scale it back at various times. Here’s the quote passed along by the fine folks at MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM…
“Joe and I talked about (lightening Sabathia’s workload) even going back to last year. This year we talked about it even more. Not only lightening the load but the pitch total during the game, because he’s a guy that almost thrives on working the pitch totals, and when he doesn’t have them, it has an effect leading into the next start. Unlike a lot of guys where if they get a little more rest they’re more effective, he works more and throws more pitches he seems to get on rolls a lot quicker. And what happened, I think, part of this year is he didn’t do it. We didn’t let him get to that point, and then with the groin at one point and the elbow at the other, we just never got to that point until towards the end and then he got on another roll when he did throw the pitches. So it’s kind of a Catch-22 with him. We do have to watch it, and we’re going to probably have to watch a few guys on this staff. We’re aware of it and back off. When he had a chance to pitch with extra rest we did that. In the past he would pitch on the fifth day almost all the time.”
Despite the two DL stints, Sabathia still threw 200 innings (exactly 200, in fact) this year because he threw eight innings in his final three starts. He seemed to hit his stride in September as Rothschild said, dominating in those final three starts and twice again in the ALDS. At age 32, Sabathia has over 2,500 regular season innings on his arm, more than the career totals of Bret Saberhagen and Doug Drabek, for example. Within two years he’ll be in the top 150 all-time in innings pitched.
I mentioned this to Joe at some point late in the season, but perhaps the Yankees have to start treating Sabathia as more of a 200-inning guy than a 230-inning guy. That means giving him the extra day once in a while or not sending him out for the eighth when his pitch count is sitting at 105. His velocity did decline this year and it’s easy to say they should take their foot off the gas to “save bullets” so to speak, but as Rothschild notes, it’s easier said than done. CC does seem to be a rhythm pitcher, particularly with his command. Reducing his workload even slightly could mean a big adjustment has to be made on his part. I think it is something worth discussing though — the Yankees have already had these talks, obviously — especially with Sabathia approaching his mid-30s with another four (potentially five) years left on his contract.
Rothschild also discussed a number of other pitching topics during the interview, including Michael Pineda’s injury and possible returns by Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. Chad Jennings has the full recap.