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Sabathia can't cut it again in Yankees loss

MILWAUKEE -- Let's get one thing straight right at the start: CC Sabathia is not going anywhere.

The New York Yankees are not going to take him out of their starting rotation, because they owe him too much money, have no other use for him and really have no one to replace him with.

They are not going to trade him, because how much value do you think a 34-year-old pitcher with a history of weight, elbow and knee problems who is owed a minimum of $71 million -- and as much as $96 million with a 2017 option that vests essentially as long as he is still breathing -- is worth to another team on the open market?

And they're not going to release him for the same reason they're not going to release Alex Rodriguez, because the wad of bills they will still have to pay him is enough to choke even a Steinbrenner.

So the best bet, in fact the only bet, is to take the Joe Girardi approach to the problem: Apply blind faith to the wound and hope that it goes away.

In the process, you can add a few drops of Sabathia's remedy: Just don't agonize about it too much.

Sabathia is here for the rest of this season and two more, mininum.

Learn to live with him, or learn to live without the Yankees, because it is clear now that the two of them are going to be together well beyond Sabathia's expiration date as an elite pitcher.

On paper, his performance in Saturday night's 5-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers doesn't look all that terrible -- 5⅓ innings pitched, eight hits allowed, just one earned run. He didn't even take the loss.

A month or two from now, someone who wasn't in Miller Park or did not see the game on TV will look at that line and consider it no worse than a so-so outing, or maybe even a turning point if Sabathia somehow manages to turn his season around. Heck, his ERA even plunged by nearly half a run, from 5.75 to 5.28.

But that line is a dirty, rotten liar. In truth, even if this wasn't Sabathia's worst outing as a Yankee, it might have been among his most discouraging.

From the first batter of the game -- Carlos Gomez, who crushed a 1-1 fastball off the glass more than 50 feet above the playing field and an estimated 462 feet from home plate -- to the last one Sabathia faced -- Caleb Gindl, who reached safely to load the bases in the sixth inning, when, once again, Sabathia failed to cover first base -- nothing Sabathia did bore any resemblance to the work of a No. 1 starter. Or a No. 2, 3 or 4 starter.

Yes, Brendan Ryan should have gloved that routine grounder off the bat of Jean Segura to end the third inning and spare Sabathia the ignominy of being taken deep -- real deep -- on consecutive pitches by Jonathan Lucroy and Aramis Ramirez. But, really, the way the Brewers were crushing his pitches, the odds are they would have done the same thing an inning later.

And yes, Sabathia did have a run of eight straight batters retired after that catastrophic third inning. But with one out in the sixth, it took just the slightest tipping of his delicate balance to send everything off kilter again -- a walk, a solid single and that infield hit Mark Teixeira made a diving stop on but could find no one to flip the ball to.

Although Sabathia would later take some measure of satisfaction in "keeping us in the game" -- the Brewers led 4-3 when he left -- in fact it was Dellin Betances who kept the Yankees in this one, coming in to clean up Sabathia's mess with two impressive strikeouts -- the second against Gomez, who looked overmatched by Betances' filthy curveball.

No, the reason the Yankees wound up losing this game was because Sabathia, the pitcher they used to feel they could count on in the biggest, most pressure-packed situations, can no longer be trusted to pick up his backup shortstop after a two-out error.

This is not something Sabathia is doing willfully but, rather, helplessly, due to the apparent ravages of premature aging to his pitching arm. Once again, he rarely got his fastball above 90 miles per hour and often allowed it to drift over the middle of the plate, where both Gomez and Lucroy turned it into a missile. Ramirez hit a cutter that meandered in at a tasty 85 mph.

After the game, it was the same old story from Girardi and Sabathia: Just one bad inning, the lament of mediocre pitchers at all levels of baseball.

"He’s having to pitch different the last couple years, but I still maintain most of the time the stuff is really good," Girardi said. "He gets outs -- and they’re usually fairly quick -- but when he makes mistakes, they hit him. In the past, maybe he got away with a few more mistakes, but right now, he’s not getting away with them. And that’s the thing about pitching: It can happen quick. You get a little bit out of whack, you walk a guy here and you walk a guy there, you don’t make a play and then you make a mistake, it can lead to multiple runs."

"Just one of those things, you know? Keep working," Sabathia said. "I definitely feel like I got better today. It’s not going to be overnight for me, the process. It’s going to be a process, but I’m building on getting better, and I feel like tonight was a step in the right direction, I guess."

Five days from now, Sabathia will get the ball again, and he will get it again five days after that, and -- as long as he stays healthy -- every five days until the end of the season. Then, they will do it all over again next season because the Yankees really have no choice.

But it certainly sounds as if Girardi and Sabathia are out of answers, except to say they expect things to get better simply because they expect them to get better. And after publicly flogging himself after each of his bad starts last season, Sabathia -- a former Cy Young Award winner -- seems a bit more at peace with the reality of what he is now.

"Obviously, it's disappointing and you want to pitch well and you want to help the team win, but you can’t let it go start to start. I just focus on whatever positives I have and go from there," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and kill myself and be negative. I'm just not doing that this year. I'll be back out there in five days ready to go."

A couple of years ago, those words would have been filled with promise.

Now, they sound more like a threat.