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Was CC Sabathia's start on Tuesday the beginning of a resurgence?

If not, and he begins to struggle again, how long will the Yankees keep him in the rotation?

New York Yankees v Kansas City Royals
CC Sabathia pitches against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on May 16, 2017.
Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

CC Sabathia had one of his best starts of the season on Tuesday night versus the Kansas City Royals. He threw 6.2 scoreless innings, allowing five hits and two walks while striking out four. Any pitcher who throws six plus scoreless innings deserves a lot of credit, but how much of Sabathia's success on Tuesday can be attributed to the Royals' poor hitting and the Yankees' slick fielding?

Entering Tuesday's game, the Royals were dead last in MLB in runs scored (119) and runs scored per game (3.21). In contrast, the Yankees were second in the AL with 201 runs scored, and first in the AL with 5.74 runs scored per game. The Royals were hitting .226, which was 20 points below the league average.

The Royals did not help their own cause on Tuesday night. Eight of the 26 batters that Sabathia faced swung at the first pitch with four of those swings resulting in quick outs. CC helped himself by getting ahead in the count, receiving a called first strike on seven hitters.

The Royals made hard contact on several occasions, but most of those shots were hit right at fielders. Alcides Escobar scorched Sabathia's first pitch of the night, but right to Chase Headley. Salvador Perez hit a rocket line drive in the second inning, caught by Didi Gregorius. Escobar led off the sixth inning with another rope, snared again by Headley. Chris Carter made some nice plays at first base, and Brett Gardner gunned out Jorge Soler as he tried to stretch a single into a double in the fifth inning. The Royals were unable to put their hits and walks together to score any runs off of Sabathia.

Despite a low pitch count, Sabathia quickly tired in the seventh inning, giving way to Tyler Clippard with the bases loaded and two outs. Clippard struck out the next batter, preserving CC's shutout. Sabathia only threw 85 pitches on the night, 56 for strikes.

Prior to Tuesday, Sabathia's 2017 campaign had been a tale of two CC's:

CC Sabathia 2017.txt

first 3 starts 3 2-0 3-0 18.1 12 4 3 7 11 1 1.47 1.04 .182 .270 .227 .498 .204
next 4 starts 4 0-2 2-2 20.2 30 22 22 10 16 5 9.58 1.94 .337 .416 .551 .966 .368
CC Sabathia’s first seven starts of 2017

Sabathia's main problem over his four consecutive lousy starts was a lack of command of the cutter. CC relies on the cutter to set up his other pitches. Without it, his slider, sinker, and changeup are prone to getting hit — and hard.

Sabathia stated that he had better command of his cutter on Tuesday night. Joe Girardi and Gary Sanchez agreed. CC threw the cutter 27 times (13 for strikes), of which eight were swinging strikes. He used the cutter effectively to set up the slider, which generated most of his outs.

Was CC Sabathia's start on Tuesday the beginning of a resurgence? It could very well be, but we'll have to wait and see. He is next scheduled to pitch at Tampa Bay on Sunday. His first start of the year was against the Rays at Tropicana where he threw five scoreless innings, yielding only three hits and two walks. After the road start against the Rays, he will pitch at Yankee Stadium versus the weak-hitting Oakland Athletics. Then the real test begins, as Sabathia will face the Orioles twice, with a start against Boston sandwiched in between.

If Sabathia begins to struggle again, how long will the Yankees keep him in the rotation? My guess is not long. Sabathia carried a 5.77 ERA into Tuesday's start with his ERA over the four bad starts sitting at a whopping 9.58. While his struggles were somewhat masked by the Yankees' hot hitting and by questions surrounding Masahiro Tanaka's inconsistency, it was difficult to imagine Girardi keeping Sabathia in the rotation for much longer if the poor results had continued. You just can't carry a guy who's giving up an average of over one run per inning pitched, and hope to remain in contention.

The Yankees have amply demonstrated that they are not obligated to continue starting players simply because of their contract or veteran status. This is pertinent in CC’s case, since he nearly lost his spot in the rotation to Ivan Nova in spring training prior to the 2016 season. Sabathia is due to become a free agent following this season, and the Yankees have a number of young guns like Chad Green and Luis Cessa waiting in the wings.

Sabathia may have gotten himself a reprieve with Tuesday's win, but the bottom line is he really needs to pitch better on a consistent basis. These next several starts may prove to be decisive. If he isn't able to pitch better with consistency, then we may bear witness to his final start in pinstripes sooner than later.

As a big CC Sabathia fan, I was hoping to see him go out on top this year. I still am.