Taking CC Sabathia out of yesterday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays after six innings is a defensible move, especially given that the sixth inning ended with the veteran pitcher giving up three two out runs. A relatively comfortable 6-1 lead turned into a decidedly uncomfortable 6-4 ballgame.
The series was on the line and everyone wanted the win so Girardi went to his bullpen calling on Adam Warren for the seventh inning, Shawn Kelley for the eighth and new closer David Robertson to close it out. Thankfully the Yankees got the win and it all worked out.
So, again, it was a perfectly defensible move. But was it the right one? Up until that last out of the sixth inning Sabathia was having a very decent outing. After surrendering a lead-off home run to Melky Cabrera, the Yankees de-facto ace settled in to shut down the powerful Blue Jays lineup through 5.2 innings.
All spring, as fans fretted about his velocity and questioned whether the former fireballer could learn to pitch with a below 90s fastball and off speed pitches, Sabathia maintained that if he spotted his pitches and worked in his new cutter he would be fine. In yesterday's game he proved that it was more than just talk; it was a doable game plan. True, he couldn’t blow fastballs past Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion or even by Dioner Navarro or Erik Kratz to end the threat, but he got out of the inning with the Yankees still in the lead. His pitch count was also reasonable at 93 pitches.
So why take him out? Why not give him a chance to show he could throw a bounce back inning? Is this Girardi’s way of saying this is the best that fans can expect from Sabathia this year: just shy of an official quality start and hoping that the offense can bail him out?
Perhaps I’m making too much of this. If the Yankees continue to win series against division rivals using this Sabathia + three relievers formula, nobody will care, least of all Sabathia. As he said on the YES Network post-game show, “We got the win and I’m happy about that.”
It’s a long season, though, and Sabathia hopefully has thirty-two or thirty-three more regular season starts. Will he be pitching those games constantly looking over his shoulder, afraid to make a mistake, worried his manager will pull him when he does? Will it affect how he pitches? Like everything else this season, it is way too early to tell.
The same way it’s too early to anoint Yangervis Solarte as MVP or Michael Pineda as the A.L. Cy Young--though the two are giving fans plenty to dream and smile about--it’s too early to know exactly what Sabathia’s season will hold.
One thing for sure: fans will be watching him closely and, apparently, so will Joe Girardi.