Two months ago, CC Sabathia was slotted in as the fifth starter for the New York Yankees.
Now he is pitching like the ace of an inconsistent rotation.
Sabathia looks to continue his renaissance Thursday night and the Yankees try to end a four-game losing streak when they visit the Minnesota Twins in the opener of a four-game series at Target Field.
Sabathia takes a 14-inning scoreless streak into Thursday, the American League’s fourth ERA and the 10th lowest in the majors (minimum 50 innings. Through 10 starts, Sabathia has the lowest ERA of his 16-year career.
The left-hander kept it going by allowing five hits in seven innings of Friday’s 4-0 win over the Detroit Tigers. It was the second straight scoreless start and the first time Sabathia has not allowed a run in consecutive starts since June 30-July 10, 2011.
Sabathia’s current ran began May 4 when he pitched seven innings of a 7-0 win in Baltimore. Coincidentally it was the same night he injured his groin but starting with those seven innings, he has a 0.71 ERA, the lowest in any six-start span of his career and the ERA has dropped from an unsightly 5.06.
So what’s fueling this turnaround for someone considered to be a highly paid fifth starter during spring training? The most noticeable component of Sabathia’s resurgence is simply knowing how to pitch and adjust to diminished velocity by using other pitchers such as the cutter.
“I think it’s difficult because when you have 97 or 98 in the tank, you can rely on that when you’re struggling with your other stuff,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “But he understands who he is now.”
Also helping Sabathia is health. The groin injury was minor compared to the 2014 knee injury which ended his season in May and even smaller than last August’s knee injury, which led to Sabathia successfully adjusting to pitching with a knee brace.
“I knew that, obviously every pitcher ages, and you lose your fastball velocity and all that stuff,” Sabathia said. “It took a while (to adjust) and it was health. I just wasn’t healthy enough to execute the pitches, so me being pain-free is a big difference.”
Now Sabathia is someone the Yankees are hoping will get them back on track. Since Sabathia’s last outing, New York has dropped four straight to Detroit and Colorado and its other four combined to allow 18 earned runs and 30 hits in 21 1/3 innings.
The Yankees went over .500 for the first time in two months after Sabathia’s last outing but during their current four-game losing streak, they have scored seven of their 15 runs in one inning. They were held without an extra-base hit during Wednesday’s 6-3 loss at Colorado and have dropped eight of their last 12 road games since taking four in Oakland May 19-22.
“This is an important month,” Girardi said. “We can’t keep having months where we’re not making up ground. If you are losing ground, it’s going to be tough catching up.”
Sabathia has done well against the Twins, going 17-9 with a 3.20 ERA in 36 starts. Nine of those have been with the Yankees as he is 5-1 with a 3.47 against Minnesota since 2008.
Minnesota (20-45) has dropped 10 of 16 since completing a three-game sweep at Seattle May 27-29. The Twins are returning home getting five hits during a 10-2 loss at the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday and will hope for better defense than Wednesday when right fielder Max Keppler allowed two runs to score by overrunning a fly ball.
“It’s disappointing,” Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. “You’d like even in defeat to play more soundly.”
The Twins will turn to Kyle Gibson, who has yet to win a game and will be making his second start since returning from a sprained right shoulder. Gibson last pitched Saturday against the Boston Red Sox when he allowed seven hits and five runs in 5 2/3 innings.
In five career starts vs. the Yankees Gibson is 1-3 with a 10.72 ERA against the Yankees. The one win was in New York July 14, 2013 when he opposed Sabathia in a 10-4 victory.
Joe Mauer has reached base in 27 straight games for the Twins but is a .163 (7-for-43) hitter off Sabathia.