First Pitch: CC's Brewers days to blame?

May, 10, 2014
May 10
10:00
AM ET
MILWAUKEE -- CC Sabathia was a Milwaukee Brewer for only three months, and made all of 17 starts for them in the second half of 2008. Still, he is held in high regard here for leading the Brewers to the playoffs that season -- one of only two postseason appearances for them in the past 32 years -- and his willingness to assume a leadership role with a group of players he hardly knew.

In fact, Sabathia's performance down as Brewer, for whom he went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA, is a big reason the Yankees decided to go all in on him that off-season, signing to a seven-year, $161 million contract.

But now, six years later, is it not fair to wonder if that final run to the playoffs, in which Sabathia insisted on taking the ball on three days rest for each of his last three starts, in the last of which he threw 122 pitches, grease the skids for his decline over the past three seasons as a Yankee?

Sabathia is 33, not young but certainly not old, and despite all the talk of his workload -- he has thrown more pitches in his career than any active pitcher, more than 43,000, and has averaged approximately 200 innings per year for 14 years -- it is no more than many pitchers of an earlier era routinely assumed without the ill-effects Sabathia has shown since 2012, when his fastball began what looks like an inexorable decline.

Sabathia met with the Milwaukee media on Friday, and it was clear that he loved his time as a Brewer, however brief, and took great pride in his role in getting them to October.

"Driving up, it felt good coming here," he said. "It was tough to leave. I loved my time here."

And when asked if he would ever consider pitching on short rest for a three-game stretch again, Sabathia said, "Absolutely. One hundred percent."

But the truth is, CC has had trouble pitching effectively on full rest for the past two seasons, and is coming off his shortest non-injury related start as a Yankee, when he allowed 10 hits and five earned runs in 3-2/3 innings against the Angels in Anaheim Monday night. Joe Girardi says he has seen improvement in Sabathia's pitches, but he still can't break 90 MPH consistently on his fastball, and his off-speed stuff has not been sharp enough to see him through. The "adjustment" to his new, lower-octane repertoire we were assured was always one start away has yet to materialize, and you wonder if it ever will.

"Everbody’s making a big deal out of my last game," Sabathia said. "I mean it was bad obviously, you know, coming on the heels of two games I probably should have won. That makes it look even worse. But I’m not as panicked I guess as everybody else is, and trying to make changes and stuff. It is what it is."

Sabathia was great as a Brewer and for three seasons, great as a Yankee. Now, he struggles just to be good again, and you wonder if the seeds of what is happening to him in 2014 were sowed on the field he will pitch on tonight back in 2008.

Up Now: The Rapid Reaction from last night's 5-2 Yankees victory, as well as blogs on hitting hero Yangervis Solarte (3-run homer) and Captain Cool, Derek Jeter, who not only stared down a fan hell-bent on an infield bro-hug, but gave him some good advice as well.

On Deck: Game 2 of this three-game series, Sabathia (3-4, 5.75) vs. RHP Kyle Lohse (4-1, 2.72), first pitch at 7:10 p.m., an hour earlier than last night. The clubhouse will open at 3:40 p.m. New York time, and I'll be there with the lineups and all the pregame news, so check in this afternoon. And as always, thanks for reading.
Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
13 2.77 141 136
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .271
HRB. McCann 23
RBIB. McCann 75
RB. Gardner 87
OPSB. Gardner .749
ERAH. Kuroda 3.71
SOH. Kuroda 146