Yanks right to observe the Sabathia

TORONTO -- At first glance, you might think this is the worst possible time for the New York Yankees to be without CC Sabathia.

Ivan Nova, who pitched horribly in his two previous starts, seemed to get back on track Saturday.

And Phil Hughes, who had a pretty good July and first start in August, has now strung together two fairly horrendous starts of his own.

If ever a staff needed a stopper like Sabathia, it would appear the Yankees do now.

But in truth, the grim reality that Nova and Hughes simply cannot be relied upon from one start to the next is precisely the reason the Yankees are right to shut Sabathia down now, even though he grumbled his way through a news conference on Sunday morning at which it was quite clear that the ace was not happy with the decision to put him on the DL with a sore pitching elbow.

Because if you can't rely on Nova and Hughes now, you certainly don't want to have to rely on them when playoff time comes.

And if shutting Sabathia down in August means he will be fresh in October, then that is the chance you have to take.

The Yankees lost 10-7 in Sunday's series finale against the Blue Jays because Rajai Davis kept Casey McGehee in the ballpark, and because Hughes took the Yankees out of the ballgame.

Once again, he left fastballs over the plate and once again, a lineup of major league hitters -- even a lineup as injury-depleted as Toronto's -- crushed them all over the ballpark.

Hughes' day consisted of four innings -- one out fewer than he was able to get five days ago in Detroit -- in which he allowed seven runs on nine hits, eight of them hit like rockets. One of them, a long home run by Edwin Encarnacion in the six-run fourth inning, was the 27th home run Hughes has allowed this season, one fewer than Ervin Santana, who leads all of baseball in that dubious category.

And once again, it was the second time through the lineup that killed Hughes. Lately, a second look at his stuff has been enough for most teams to tee off on him.

"Hitters get reads on guys the first time through the order," Hughes said, "and you kinda have to switch things up. It just comes down to a command thing. I have to do better."

The inability to make in-game adjustments was blamed for Hughes' struggles in April, when he was 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA.

"He was making mistakes then, too, with his fastball," Joe Girardi said. "Today, a lot of balls when he tried to go away to right-handers came back, and those are the ones they hit. He corrected it in April. He needs to correct it again, that's all."

If only it were that easy. The hole Hughes put the Yankees in -- made deeper by Ryota Igarashi, who came in with the team needing a shutdown fifth inning but allowed three more runs instead -- proved to be too much to overcome.

The Yankees battled back for three runs in the sixth and seventh, but suffered a huge blow when Davis, who had a career-high five RBIs for the Jays with two doubles, made one of the greatest catches seen this or any year, climbing the 10-foot wall in left-center to rob McGehee of a two-run homer.

"That's an unbelievable catch," Girardi said. "I don't know it if changes the game, you never know what's going to happen there, but it's quite a catch."

After pulling within three runs -- Derek Jeter had a solo homer, his ninth, and Robinson Cano a two-run shot, his 25th, both in the sixth inning -- the Blue Jays got the shutdown inning the Yankees were looking for out of 42-year-old Darren Oliver.

It was a downer of an ending to a road trip that started badly with two losses in Detroit before four straight wins, and came to a crashing halt in the final game.

"It was really strange," Girardi said. "We had a 4-3 road trip and it's unfortunate we lost today. We need to have a good homestand."

A tough seven-game stretch opens on Monday at Yankee Stadium with four against the big-hitting Texas Rangers and continues through the weekend with three against the Boston Red Sox.

Nova will face Texas on Thursday and Hughes will go against Boston on Friday, and when the Rangers series opens Monday night, it will be David Phelps, not Sabathia, who will be on the mound. (Presumably, Phelps' turn will come up again on Saturday).

It may seem like a tough way to go when you are nursing a five-game lead in the division, as the Yankees are currently over the Tampa Bay Rays, with the Baltimore Orioles just a half-game back of that.

And with both Nova and Hughes hopelessly erratic this season -- it would be foolish to think Nova was permanently straightened out with his excellent performance on Saturday -- this would seem like an awful time for the Yankees to be without Sabathia.

Considering their excessive caution in injury matters, you might even be tempted to believe that the Yankees did not really need to shut down CC, that they are overreacting to what might be nothing more than the routine soreness any starting pitcher who works as deep into games as Sabathia routinely does normally goes through.

Then again, any pitcher who finds he can't play Simon Says the day after a start -- CC said he was unable to touch his left shoulder with his left hand due to the stiffness in his elbow -- might be more seriously injured than the Yankees are letting on, or even know right now.

Whatever the truth is regarding CC's injury, about this there can be no doubt: The time when the Yankees will need Sabathia to be at the top of his game is in the postseason. The time when they can afford to allow Nova and Hughes to sort their problems out is now.

If a couple of more weeks of pitching angst in August results in a healthy Sabathia, who can win the five games the Yankees will probably need from him in October, who's to argue?

The way Hughes and Nova are pitching, the Yankees will miss Sabathia more than ever for the next couple of weeks.

But better to miss him now than to not have him at his best in October.