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Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Updated: April 18, 11:21 AM ET
For CC Sabathia, it's a new ballgame

By Wallace Matthews
ESPNNewYork.com

With apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald, there are so second acts in American lives, especially for American athletes, and CC Sabathia is about to embark on his.

The New York Yankees' ace left-hander is nothing if not realistic, and while his manager continues to cling to the hope that within a month or so Sabathia will be back to pumping 94 mph fastballs past hitters with regularity, the man who will be throwing those fastballs knows otherwise.

CC Sabathia
After a rough first inning, Sabathia shut down the Diamondbacks on Wednesday, despite a lack of velocity.

"I'm hoping some more velocity comes back," Sabathia said after gutting out eight innings in the Yankees' rousing 4-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. "But if not, we'll work with this."

What Sabathia is working with is a fastball that tops out at 90 mph, a changeup that moseys in at around 82, and a slider that loiters in the upper 70s -- hardly the fast-lane neighborhood he dwelt in for the first 12 years of his career.

But after 2,600-plus major league innings and more than 37,000 -- you read that right -- major league pitches, Sabathia has come to accept what others choose to deny: That the pitcher he is now is the pitcher he is likely to stay for the remainder of his career.

"It might be," he said, when asked if this was his new reality as a pitcher. "But I'm not gonna lose any sleep over it. There's nothing I can do about it. I can't throw any harder. I'll just deal with whatever comes."

This was not said by a man in distress, either physical or mental, but by one who almost seemed to be expecting it and was prepared to make the proper adjustments to compensate for it.

"After 13 years in the big leagues and I don't know how many starts or innings, it's something that everybody's going to go through," he said. "And we'll see if this is my time."

Considering the way Sabathia pitched Wednesday night -- overcoming a rocky, 31-pitch first inning in which the Diamondbacks scored two runs on a homer by Paul Goldschmidt, working eight strong innings to earn his third win of the season -- there may not be anything for anyone to worry about.

But even Sabathia acknowledged, "It's going to be hard. But I'm not going to make it a bigger deal than it needs to be. We'll just have to wait and see."

He said he would tap into some of the wisdom in the room -- he pointed to the locker of his clubhouse next-door neighbor, Andy Pettitte, as a prime source of information -- to help ease his transition from thrower to pitcher.

"It's all about working on game plans," he said, "and trying to get better as a pitcher."

Throughout spring training, Sabathia's velocity was a tick down -- the Yankees' radar guns caught him between 90 and 92 mph -- but Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild put that down to Sabathia's recovery from offseason arthroscopic elbow surgery to clean out some bone spurs.

Sabathia, to his credit, has repeatedly denied the elbow problem -- which pained him in throwing his off-speed pitches -- had any effect on his velocity.

Then, when Sabathia's velocity dipped again in his first three starts in the regular season, Girardi said Sabathia's velocity is always down in April and doesn't reach its full power until the warm-weather months of June and July.

That, too, turned out not to be entirely accurate, since pitch-tracking websites such as PitchFX clocked him as high as 94.5 mph for both the 2011 and 2012 openers.

Now, four starts into the new season, Sabathia seems not to be gaining velocity, but perhaps losing some, even if only incrementally.

"To me, he's really the same guy," Girardi said after Wednesday's game, which was won by a Travis Hafner pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning. "He just doesn't have quite as much velocity. The bottom line is that he's got to hit his spots. Whether it's 90, 88, 95, you have to hit your spots. I know you'll get away with maybe a little bit more at 95, but it really comes down to hitting your spots. If he's going to hit his spots, he's going to be really effective."

Then Girardi repeated his contention that, over time, Sabathia's velocity would improve. "I think you'll see 92, 93 and maybe some 94," the manager said. "I do believe you're going to see it, it's just going to take some time."

Sabathia did not seem nearly as confident about regaining his fastball -- although having tamed the Diamondbacks on just three hits after that first inning, he was more than pleased with the outcome. He gave much of the credit to Francisco Cervelli, who he said continued to call for his changeup even after Goldschmidt blasted the first one he threw a mile into the right-field seats.

"I probably wouldn't have thrown it anymore, but Cervy kept calling for it," Sabathia said. "You got to give him a lot of credit for sticking with it. I would have just left it alone. But it got better because I kept throwing it."

That is what Sabathia is going to live on now, his changeup and his slider, which accounted for five of his strikeouts. The days of rearing back and blowing hitters away with 94, 95, even 97 mph heat are gone, and now Sabathia is preparing for the next phase of his career.

Even Hafner, a teammate of Sabathia's for six seasons in Cleveland, has noticed the difference. "He's always been a tremendous competitor, but early on in his career, whenever he got into trouble, he would try to throw as hard as he can," Hafner said. "Now he really pitches. He knows how to attack hitters. He has a great changeup now. He can locate now. That's what the great ones do. They find a way to right the ship."

Sabathia's ship seems to be sailing smoothly, if not quite as quickly as it once did.

"Smoke and mirrors," is how he described his performance Wednesday night.

Mirrors maybe, but not a lot of smoke.

That is CC Sabathia's new reality, one that will make his second act every bit as interesting to watch as his first.