Monday, March 10, 2014
CC: Can't Conclude (yet)
By Wallace Matthews
Don't expect to get any answers Tuesday about how far CC Sabathia's leaner fastball -- and frame -- will take him in 2014.
TAMPA, Fla. -- CC Sabathia will make his second start of the spring on Tuesday when the Yankees travel across the state to play the Washington Nationals in Viera.
Let me inform you right now that you will not learn anything from it.
Sabathia's new, leaner fastball, to go along with his new leaner body, clocked in at around 88 mph in his first spring start back on March 1 (he had a gun-free simulated game on March 6). The likelihood is it won't be a heck of a lot faster Tuesday.
And yet, that is no reason for panic among Yankees fans that the nominal ace of their pitching staff is headed for another sub-par season in 2014. Trying to predict in-season production off spring training performance is a fool's gambit, since the object of these games is not to break speed records, or even necessarily to win games, so much as it is simply to get ready for the games that really count.
And in Sabathia's case, that may mean relearning how to pitch effectively with a reduced arsenal. And that is going to take some time.
Necessity is the mother of reinvention, and at 33 years old -- he turns 34 in July -- Sabathia may be facing the toughest challenge of his career as he transitions from power pitcher to simply pitcher. And there's no way we're going to know if he can do that off this start, or the one after that or the one after that. In fact, it may take a healthy chunk of the regular season before we can even begin to make a fair judgment on how much Sabathia has left, and how much he can contribute to the Yankees this season, and for the remaining two seasons -- plus an option -- remaining on his contract.
Of course, plenty of pitchers have had great careers with the kind of repertoire Sabathia seems to have now. Tom Glavine rode an 89 mph fastball all the way to Cooperstown, and David Wells never threw much harder.
The difference is, those guys started out like that. They never had to make the kind of adjustment Sabathia is going to have to make now. That is the challenge that faces him, and none of us should expect him to make it overnight. Suffice it to say that Sabathia's changeup, a huge part of his arsenal in 2009, will be a key pitch for him this season.
The Nationals, among the favorites to win the 2014 World Series -- at least one online betting site lists Washington's odds at 12-1, and the Yankees at 14-1 -- have a strong lineup featuring the likes of Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche, although we won't know how many of them will be in the lineup against Sabathia until Tuesday morning. It is possible he'll get smacked around some. It's also possible he will shut them down.
Either way, it won't really make much of a difference. The odds are that Sabathia is going to be a work in progress for all of this spring training, and for at least part of the 2014 regular season. Reinventions are never easy and never quick.
Let's give Sabathia as much time as he needs to accomplish this one. In a lot of ways, the Yankees' season may depend on it.
Tanaka-snooze-a: In sharp contrast to his most recent outing, when Masahiro Tanaka took the mound against the Phillies before an energized full house at The Boss on Thursday, the $155 million man will toil in privacy Tuesday morning, throwing a simulated game to a couple of teammates early in the morning before the team bus leaves on the 2 1/2-hour trip to Viera. I'll be your eyes and ears this time, so check in for a full report.