Problem solved: Pitch CC every night
Who needs Burnett, Hughes, Nova, Colon or Garcia? Just keep giving ball to Sabathia
CHICAGO -- The solution to the Yankees' starting pitching woes lies in going not to a six-man rotation, but to a one-man rotation.
Provided, of course, the one man is CC Sabathia and each of his starts is followed by four days of rain.
Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field, a night so steamy jockeys could have made weight just by sitting in the stands, Sabathia toiled through eight innings of two-run ball to earn his major league-leading 16th win.
It wasn't easy, it wasn't pretty and it certainly wasn't dry -- the temperature at first pitch was 85 degrees, with humidity to match -- but by a combination of defense, determination and Dunn, as in Adam, Sabathia was able to muddle through despite allowing 10 hits, tying his season high.
"I had to battle a little bit tonight," Sabathia said. "It was tough out there. It was humid. There was some thick air. I wouldn't say I struggled, but I felt it tonight."
Pitching just a couple of hours after Joe Girardi acknowledged the tough choice ahead of him -- Phil Hughes or Ivan Nova, starting rotation or bullpen -- Sabathia went out and gave the manager and his bullpen a much-needed breather.
Staked to a 2-0 first-inning lead cobbled together on three infield hits and Curtis Granderson's RBI double to right, Sabathia benefited from three double plays, two of which featured excellent work from Robinson Cano, and one sparkling over-the-shoulder catch, also by Cano, on a pop fly that seemed headed for no-man's land just inside the foul line in short right field.
The three DP's snuffed out burgeoning Chicago threats, and the catch of the pop fly eliminated a baserunner who probably would have scored when the next hitter, A.J. Pierzynski, doubled into the right-field gap.
And after Alexei Ramirez (batting .421 versus Sabathia in his career with eight hits in 19 at-bats) belted a two-run homer in the fourth, little could anyone have suspected that a fourth double play, this one also involving Cano, would wind up being the difference in the game. That one, which Cano hit into in the third, plated the Yankees' last run in what turned out to be a 3-2 victory.
"It was one of those nights when the fielders were in the right spots," Girardi said.
In actuality, it was a beautifully pitched ballgame on both sides. The Yankees made Jake Peavy, Sabathia's Chicago counterpart, work, but after the first inning, they never made him pay, and despite needing 80 pitches to navigate the first four innings, Peavy righted himself to get through seven on a tidy 115.
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The wild card in the game turned out to be Dunn, with 364 home runs and five straight 40-homer years on his résumé, who this year is struggling at .162. Even worse, he came into the game with just three hits in his previous 73 at-bats against left-handed pitchers. He left with three hits in his past 77 at-bats against lefties and three more strikeouts to extend his American League-leading total to 137.
Worst of all for the White Sox, in two instances he came up late in the game with runners on base, and both times looked like a man trying to kill mosquitoes with a sledgehammer.
"He's just been having a tough year," Sabathia said diplomatically. "Still, you don't want to make mistakes. You don't want to get lazy and make a pitch that you'll regret."
The real truth, however, was spoken on the mound in the eighth inning with Carlos Quentin at bat. According to Sabathia, one of his teammates advised him, "not to give in, because you got Dunn up next."
Quentin singled, but as he had in his two previous at-bats, Dunn fanned on a slider, ending the inning and Chicago's final threat.
Charging off the field, Francisco Cervelli pumped his fist repeatedly in sharp contrast to the unflappable, almost emotionless Sabathia.
"That's why we work so well together, because of that combination," said Sabathia, who has thrown to Cervelli in 10 of his past 18 starts. "He's got a lot of energy and comes up to the mound a lot, makes sure I'm finishing pitches and trying to be aggressive."
Not every Yankees pitcher is a fan of Cervelli's enthusiastic personality -- on the Yankees' last trip to Chicago, to play the Cubs in June, Freddy Garcia said Cervelli "needs to calm down a little" -- but he seems the perfect antagonist to Sabathia's laid-back demeanor.
"That's just me," Cervelli said. "I try to keep him in the game all the time. Everybody has to know it's not against the other team or the hitters, it's just me, my adrenaline. I love to play the game."
And the Yankees clearly love to play behind Sabathia, who after benefiting from some of the best run support in the league, more than 7.5 runs per game at one point this season, has had to manage with just 13 in his past five starts.
Still, he has managed to win four of them, including a complete game shutout against the Rays on July 10.
"That's just CC and how he's pitched," Girardi said. "He knows how to get outs when he needs to get outs, and that was what he did tonight. He's a true ace."
Enough of the mishegoss over Hughes and Nova and Bartolo and Freddy, who pitches when, who pitches where and who throws to whom.
Why can't the Yankees just simplify this to its most effective component?
Pitch CC every night from now to the end of the World Series.
NOTES: Granderson had two doubles, scored two runs to extend his MLB-leading total to 96 and drove in another to tie Mark Teixeira for the team lead with 79. ... Mariano Rivera pitched a clean ninth inning, with one strikeout, to notch his 28th save of the season. ... Girardi said he expects Derek Jeter, who sat out the game with a bruised middle finger on his right hand after being hit by a pitch Sunday, to play Tuesday. ... Hughes, possibly pitching to salvage his place in the rotation, takes his 1-3 record and 8.24 ERA in against LHP John Danks (4-8, 3.79) on Tuesday night, first pitch at 8:10 p.m. ET.