Commentary

Is CC's elbow woe the final straw?

It seems no injury can faze the 2012 Yanks, whose ace is headed to disabled list

Updated: August 11, 2012, 7:17 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

TORONTO -- So far, there has been no straw that could break this camel's back.

The New York Yankees have lost so many high-profile players this season, players whose absence seemed likely to spell their doom, only to continue as if nothing at all had happened, that it is beginning to sound like a Chicken Little routine.

The sky is falling, the sky is falling. And then you look up and every other team in the division is still below them.

That is why it is hard to know how seriously to take this latest blow, the news that CC Sabathia, the ace of their pitching staff, will be down for at least 15 days with what the team is calling left elbow inflammation.

Joe Girardi is calling the team's level of concern "low," because an MRI taken last week came back clean, because Sabathia came back to pitch effectively with the stiffness at least one time, and because the big man told him it was nothing to worry about.

But Girardi might have also added another reason: Because every time one of the "indispensables" has gone down this season, someone else has always stepped up to take his place.

It might be a false sense of security, or it might be that the Yankees are uncommonly deep this season, or it might be that there really are no indispensables on this roster.

But the facts are indisputable: Michael Pineda, the 23-year-old righty acquired in a trade from Seattle to be an anchor of the staff for years to come, goes down in spring training with a torn rotator cuff.

And Phil Hughes steps up.

Brett Gardner, relied upon to provide speed and chaos at the top of the batting order and defensive wizardry in the outfield, goes down nine games into the season with a bad elbow.

[+] EnlargeIvan Nova
John E. Sokolowski/US PresswireIvan Nova regained his winning touch on the day the Yankees lost CC Sabathia for the next two weeks.

And Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones become a two-headed left-field monster that so far has provided 27 home runs and 79 RBIs.

Mariano Rivera tears an ACL in May, and Rafael Soriano, who pouted through his first season as a setup man, reemerges as their shirt-ripping closer, having converted 28 of 30 save opportunities.

Have you heard enough, or shall I continue?

Andy Pettitte breaks an ankle; Freddy Garcia breaks into the rotation and is a more-than-serviceable 4-3 as a starter since.

Alex Rodriguez breaks a hand; the oft-injured Eric Chavez breaks out, hitting close to .400 in the 16 games he has started in A-Rod's place, and has yet to come apart at the seams in the process.

And now, on the day Sabathia goes down, Ivan Nova steps up, following up perhaps the two worst starts of his young career with one of his best, baffling the Blue Jays into the eighth inning, striking out 10 and allowing just two runs and five hits.

Almost as if on cue, Nova relocated his missing slider and curveball, using them to strike out nine of his 10 victims. For the first time since before the All-Star break, he looked as poised and effective as he did last year, when he ran off 12 straight wins.

This can't possibly continue. Or can it?

The Sabathia injury is not only potentially impactful this season, but also over the long haul; last October, the Yankees tore up the seven-year, $161 million contract they originally signed him to and added another year and (at least) another $30 million.

Elbow injuries are seldom a good thing. And when the Yankees say they have "a low level of concern" about any injury, that is often the time to start worrying. They weren't worried about Pineda, until they were. Nor were they worried about Gardner, until it was announced he would undergo season-ending elbow surgery.

It could very well be there is no reason to worry about Sabathia. The pitcher's long history of workhorse-like endurance -- he is routinely among the league leaders in number of innings and pitches thrown every season -- tends to make you believe this will be just a temporary setback.

Then again, Sabathia's superhuman workload -- he has 230-plus innings in each of his past five seasons -- could be the reason why he has had a recent run of nagging injuries: surgery to repair a torn meniscus two years ago, a groin strain in June, elbow soreness today.

In any case, his is just the latest in a long string of body blows the Yankees have taken this season, each of which they have shaken off.

"We're going to deal with it; that's the bottom line," Girardi said. "We need to have him healthy. If we're going to continue to move on, we're going to need to have him healthy."

That might be true of the postseason, when the Yankees are going to need a rock-solid pitching rotation of four starters they can count on, and at least one who might be able to pitch three times in a seven-game series, if necessary.

Right now, Sabathia is the only man on this pitching staff who fits that description.

Then again, Rivera was the only guy who could do what he did, and so was Gardner, and so were Pettitte and Rodriguez.

They all turned out to be replaceable, and so, too, may be Sabathia.

But at some point, when the boy cries out, the wolf really is at your door. And occasionally, even Chicken Little turns out to not be a hysteric.

So far, the Yankees have avoided every possible catastrophe, sometimes against all the odds and any conceivable logic.

But sooner or later, even their luck has got to run out.

Will the Sabathia injury be the straw that is too heavy even for this camel's back to handle?

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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