OAKLAND, Calif. -- It has been more than two weeks since CC Sabathia issued his infamous "I'm hurting the team" proclamation after a rough outing in Tampa against the Rays.
Since then, he had done anything but, beating the Red Sox and throwing a complete game against the Indians.
But just when you were tempted to declare Sabathia's early-season struggles officially behind him, they reared up again Tuesday night against the Athletics.
Sabathia worked just six innings, his shortest outing since a rain-abbreviated start in Colorado on May 9, and allowed six earned runs and eight hits, two of them home runs that were absolutely crushed, one by Coco Crisp just two pitches into the first inning, and the other by Derek Norris, who jumped all over a first-pitch, get-me-over curveball for the three-run home run that broke the Yankees' back in the fourth inning.
Once again, Sabathia's velocity loitered in the neighborhood of mediocrity, ranging between 89 and 91 mph, and working without sharp secondary pitches, Sabathia needed superior command, which he most certainly did not have on this night.
And despite a two-run ninth-inning rally and a shot by Travis Hafner that nearly tied the score but instead became the final out, the Yankees went down to a 6-4 defeat in the opener of this three-game series.
Once again, Joe Girardi insisted Sabathia is healthy, and once again he preferred to downplay Sabathia's performance as the result of "a couple of mistakes."
But the hard numbers tell a different story. Sabathia has now allowed 14 home runs, more than anyone on the staff, and his ERA is up to 4.07, second-highest among Yankees starters. (Phil Hughes runs second in HRs with 12 and first in ERA at 4.80.) Sabathia has now allowed 121 baserunners in 95 innings. Perhaps most disturbing, he has yet to string together more than three strong outings at any point this season. In 14 starts, he has allowed eight or more hits eight times, and the six earned runs he surrendered Tuesday were the second-highest total of the season, since the night he allowed seven against the Rays.
Although it's hardly open to debate whether we've already seen the best of CC in a Yankees uniform (it's hard to believe it can get any better than his 2010 season, when he went 21-7 and ran third in the AL Cy Young voting), it makes you wonder if we have already seen the best from CC this season, too.
He threw a great game against the Red Sox on May 31, working into the eighth inning and allowing only one run and six hits. But his continuing penchant to give up hard-hit balls -- only the fluky RBI double that dropped between Robinson Cano and Lyle Overbay in short right field in the second inning was not a rocket -- is a disturbing omen for the rest of this season and what is left on his eight-year contract, on which the Yankees still owe an excess of $100 million.
The home run by Norris, who came in batting .194 with two homers and 10 RBIs, was by far the most troubling moment of the night, because it was obvious Sabathia, with no real confidence in his fastball, was trying to sneak a curveball past Norris for a first-pitch strike. But the pitch hung and became a sitting duck, easily smoked over the left-center field fence for a three-run homer.
"That was my call. That's my fault," catcher Chris Stewart said. "It could've been a little more outside but it wasn't a bad pitch. We're just trying to get ahead with it basically and he threw it for a strike like we wanted. Unfortunately it got hit out."
Sabathia was not quite as dejected as after the Tampa Bay loss, but admitted, “It’s disappointing. It’s definitely frustrating. After having two good ones and feeling really good, just not having it today is frustrating. I just felt like everything was flat. No real life on the fastball. It’s up to me to go out there and battle, try to keep us in the game. I couldn’t do that today.”
If you get the feeling you've heard a lot of this before, well, you have. And that's because we've seen this game before from Sabathia, at least four times this season and now, twice in the past 16 days.
Girardi insisted his ace is healthy and prefers to look at games such as this as one-offs, aberrations that will creep into even the best pitcher's game log from time to time.
"I'm not ready to give up on him," the manager said. "I just think he had an off night."
Do you agree? Was this just another off night for CC Sabathia, or is there cause for greater concern that the Yankees nominal ace may be in reality just an average major league starter these days? Let us know in the comments section below.
UP NOW: Since it probably ended after your bedtime, you might want to check out the Rapid Reaction from last night's 6-4 loss as well as some postgame notes from the clubhouse.
ON DECK: I'll be doing a live Yankees chat at 2 p.m. ET today, followed by Game 2 of the three-game series, Phil Hughes (3-4, 4.80) vs. RHP Dan Straily (3-2, 4.67), first pitch at 10:05 p.m. Clubhouse opens at 6:30 p.m. ET, and I'll have lineups and pregame notes shortly thereafter, so be sure to drop by. And as always, thanks for reading.