Three weeks into the 2014 season, the New York Yankees know one thing for certain: C.C. Sabathia is not performing like the ace he is paid to be. However, he can still rack up wins and post more respectable numbers if he is tended to appropriately.
The big lefty has given the Yankees everything the organization could ask for during his time in the Bronx. Sabathia has been the team’s only consistent pitcher for the better part of five seasons and is beginning to show signs of fatigue. However, placing limitations on the former workhorse could benefit both Sabathia and the Yankees’ position in the AL East.
In three of his four starts this season, Sabathia has given up a total of eight runs in the sixth inning or later. His ability to consistently pitch deep into games is vanishing along with his velocity. Sabathia was once the type of pitcher who would grow stronger over the course of the game. Now, his low-90s fastball fades into the high-80s as the game progresses.
In contrast, Sabathia has proven thus far in 2014 that he can still be his dominant self in the early innings. In his three most recent outings, Sabathia has given up only two runs combined in the first five frames of each game. The late innings are crushing not only Sabathia, but the team’s chances of winning.
Manager Joe Girardi once was accustomed to letting his lefty mainstay regularly go eight innings without hesitation. Now, keeping an eye on his pitch count and signs of tiredness should become more routine. With young newcomers like Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda off to hot starts, the Yankees should not put as much responsibility on Sabathia. Instead, the back of the rotation is where the pressure must be forced.
Sabathia cannot be asked to replicate his game from his mid-20s. His arm has been overtaxed and with all of the optimism surrounding Tanaka and Pineda, the Yankees should go all-in with the highly-coveted pitchers for which the team waged so much. Sabathia is not who he once was, and the Yankees must adjust.