In his start vs. Oakland last Thursday, CC Sabathia had looked strong through four innings, allowing no runs on three hits with no other base runners. In the fifth, it started to go south when Billy Burns took him deep and when Brett Lawrie did the same an inning later to eclipse the Yankees' lead, which had once been 3-0. For what Sabathia's been this year though, six innings and three runs isn't too bad. They call that a quality start. With the game tied, the big lefty had put the Yankees in a good position to win.
Then Sabathia came out for the seventh. Sure, his pitch count was still low, but he'd given up dingers in back to back innings and things felt a bit ominous when he faced Josh Phegley to lead off the seventh. Phegley singled, Mark Canha walked, and then CC was out and David Carpenter was in and...well, I won't rehash how that went. Back when Sabathia was in his prime, tossing 230, 240 and 250 dominant innings per year, there would have been no question about his pitching into the seventh inning in a game like that. But just as he needs to adjust the way he pitches to account for diminished stuff and a fastball that now sits under 90, Joe Girardi needs to adjust how far he goes..
Contrast Sabathia's Thursday start with Nathan Eovaldi's on Saturday. Eovaldi escaped the first two innings unscathed then allowed two runs on a four-hit rally in the third and another on two more singles in the fourth. When Eovaldi let Brett Lawrie on with two outs in the fifth on yet another single, Girardi pulled the plug and Chasen Shreve and the rest of the bullpen guided to a Yankees 5-3 win. Why wasn't Eovaldi left in to decide his own fate? He'd allowed 11 hits, but none for extra bases and no walks. The Yankees view Eovaldi as a back-end starter, and back-end guys don't get the benefit of the doubt there. CC is a back-end starter now, so neither should he.
In ten outings so far this season, Sabathia's met with some serious trouble as his pitch counts have climbed. When he's passed 75 pitches, opposing hitters are slashing .370/.383/.722 and they've slugged 5 of the 10 home runs he's allowed despite representing only around 23 percent of the hitters he's faced. Not surprisingly, CC's numbers in the sixth - .930 OPS against - and seventh - 1.426 OPS against - innings are equally jarring. That's more of the same from last year's injury-shortened campaign. In the eight starts he made in 2014, Sabathia was slapped around for a .421/.450/.684 line in the sixth and seventh innings and a .357/.379/.518 slash on pitches past 75.
Despite all that, the Yankees still seem bent on riding Sabathia deep into games whenever possible. His reputation has always been that of an innings-eater, so they figure if they can't get great quality anymore they'll at least get great quantity. After ten spins through the rotation only staff ace Michael Pineda had notched more frames than CC's 60.1 and only by four. But while Girardi and Brian Cashman might want Sabathia to be a workhorse, it's not a role that he's suited for at this stage. That's not to say that if CC's partying like it's 2009 through six he should automatically be pulled. Hopefully he'll do that against the Mariners tonight and make me look stupid. But if after a few solid innings early, Sabathia's beginning to look sketchy at pitch 79 or 81 or 87, it's foolish to assume he'll recover. He probably won't.