ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It ain't the speed, it's the vicinity.
That was the verdict on CC Sabathia's performance tonight at the Trop. For the first time all season, his fastball ventured out of the mediocre lane it had been stuck in and touched 93 mph. His changeup hit 85 and his slider, which was in the high 70s last time out, made it to 81.
And yet, Sabathia got hit harder in the Yankees' 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays tonight than he had in any previous start this season.
“I just thought he was up with a couple of his pitches," Joe Girardi said. "I didn’t think he had his good sinker tonight, and he found a way to make an adjustment and give us seven innings, which I thought he did an amazing job at.”
True, Sabathia wound up giving the Yankees innings, but with Matt Moore throwing BBs for the Rays, it took him only one inning to give away the game: the first, when relatively light-hitting Ryan Roberts blasted a solo home run, Sean Rodriguez tripled in another run, and Yunel Escobar also homered to give Tampa Bay a 4-0 lead.
After Roberts homered for a second time in the third, the Rays were done, and so were the Yankees. Sabathia, who had surrendered just one home run in his first 28 innings, allowed three in three innings tonight.
"In the first inning, everything was flat," said catcher Francisco Cervelli. "If he doesn’t hit his spots, he gets hit. He’s just got to hit the corners and make the hitters uncomfortable."
Sabathia, whose record fell to 3-2 and ERA rose to 3.34, attributed his problems to a lack of aggressiveness. "I was just telling myself to be nice and easy and I think that took some of my aggressiveness away in coming after guys and letting the ball go,” he said.
But Sabathia's problem may have been more than just the location of his pitches. It could be the location of the ballpark, as well. With the loss, his career record at Tropicana Field fell to 3-6, and in his nine starts here are as a Yankee, the team is 1-8. Plus, it seems as if the Rays have got his number -- they are the only team to ever hit three home runs off him in one game more than once, and they have now done it three times, including on Aug. 12, 2011, when they blasted him for five home runs by five different players. Overall, he is a .500 pitcher (10-10) against the Rays in 30 career starts with a 4.07 ERA.
“We talked about it last year; I don’t [have a reason]," Sabathia said of his struggles against Tampa. "It’s a different lineup every time. It’s just one of those things where I haven’t pitched really good against them.”
Considering the fact the Yankees will play the Rays 17 more times this year, and Sabathia is likely to face them five more times, that is a situation that needs to be rectified, and quickly.