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Not so fast? Sabathia turns up heat, but can he sustain it?

Sabathia brought the heat last night.
Sabathia brought the heat last night.
Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees' series opener against the Red Sox was supposed to be about the return of Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis to the lineup, but the big story turned out to be CC Sabathia's re-emergence on the. mound

Sabathia's previous start had been one of his worst as a Yankee. Not only did the big lefty surrender seven runs to the light hitting Tampa Rays, the most he ever allowed in pinstripes, but his Game Score of 37 ranked as the 12th lowest in 140 starts since joining the team. With only one start standing between Sabathia and his first winless month since April 2003, it was shaping up to be a forgettable May. Instead, Sabathia mowed down the Red Sox with a performance that seemed to say, "Remember me?"

Sabathia's 10 strikeouts against the Red Sox represented the 17th time he reached double digits with the Bronx Bombers, as well as the first time he did so without a walk. It was the kind of domination the Yankees have come to expect from their ace, but had not enjoyed this season. And, perhaps more importantly, it was accompanied by a meaningful increase in velocity. After toiling in the low-90s since the start of the season, Sabathia's average fastball jumped all the way to 92 mph, which, although still below his career norms, seemed to represent an important breakthrough.

CC Sabathia's Monthly Fastball Velocity, 2008-2013


Was Sabathia's fastball going to remain at 90 mph for the whole season? Even before last night, that didn't seem likely. However, because his April and May readings were much lower than in season's past, it was only natural, and prudent, to wonder whether he would be able to reach last year's maximum velocity, much less the levels from before he experienced shoulder discomfort last season. After last night's performance, some of that concern has been alleviated.

Just like 10 starts were not enough to confirm the demise of Sabathia's fastball, one encouraging outing does not dispel the concern. Although it's true that the big lefty's fastball heats up with the weather, the ascent has usually been gradual. In fact, if you extrapolate Sabathia's early fastball velocity based on his normal trend, there isn't much reason for optimism. However, because of Sabathia's off season surgery and abbreviated spring training, this season is unique.

CC Sabathia's Per Start Fastball Frequency and Velocity, 2008 to 2013


Because it seems reasonable to assume Sabathia's surgery and limited preparation, not a gradual decline, were responsible for the very low radar gun readings in his first 10 starts of the season, the lefty's track record has not been as applicable. Before projecting his velocity forward, it was important for Sabathia to first prove he could reach the levels attained before his surgery. With last night's start, he did just that. Now, the Yankees can begin to envision a summer with Sabathia bringing the heat.

If Sabathia has turned a corner related to his off season surgery, 92 mph is just the beginning. The news of the big lefty's demise was certainly premature, and it's probably equally rash to assume his return to dominance is permanent, but, last night, Sabathia did more than just pitch like an ace. He also gave the Yankees good reason to believe he will continue to do for the rest of the season.

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