BOSTON — The Yankees initially didn’t even expect to use him this weekend, so CC Sabathia was omitted from Joe Girardi’s original rotation to open the second half here in a four-game showdown against the Red Sox.
Despite being the team’s highest-paid player this season at $25 million, the former Cy Young winner looked like — at least for a while earlier this year — he was no lock to remain in the five-man rotation for all of 2017.
But with Michael Pineda done for the season now and likely facing Tommy John surgery, Sabathia clearly will and deservedly must remain a key component of the starting staff, even if GM Brian Cashman adds another proven arm for any potential playoff push.
After officially finding out that he’d be pitching following Saturday’s 16-inning marathon win, Sabathia, on short notice, twirled six scoreless innings in a 3-0 win over the Red Sox in the day portion of a doubleheader on Sunday — sparing parts of the bullpen for Masahiro Tanaka’s turn in the nightcap and helping provide the Yankees with their first consecutive wins in more than a month.
“They told me (on Saturday) to be ready just in case, so I just started preparing myself mentally,” said Sabathia, who actually went down to the bullpen to start stretching late in Saturday’s game in case it was extended beyond 16 innings. “I’ve pitched against these guys so much, we pretty much have a game plan. Just moving it up a day, I felt good. I hadn’t pitched in a long time, so just wanted to get back out there.”
The erstwhile ace looked good, as well, showing better bite and command with his slider than he had in his first start back off the disabled list just before the All-Star break, and even reaching 95 mph on the radar gun a few times in his latter innings. CC did issue five walks, but he allowed just two hits and held Boston batters hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position.
He now has tossed 14 innings against the Red Sox this season. They have scored zero runs against him.
Put a price tag on that.
“He did a really good job today to give us six strong innings like he did and to shut them down. It’s a very good offensive club and it’s what we needed ,”said Joe Girardi, whose team hadn’t posted back-to-back wins since June 11-12. “It’s been a long, long time, so really good, especially after the difficult loss we had Friday night. For our guys to respond the way they did was really good.”
Indeed, the Yankees’ reset following Friday’s giveaway ninth-inning defeat with Aroldis Chapman imploding on the mound has been impressive and perhaps even significant as it relates to the playoff hunt, with the possibility of drawing back within 1.5 games of first-place Boston — and even in the loss column — behind Tanaka in the second game.
With seven relievers combining for nine scoreless innings on Saturday, Tyler Clippard and Chapman each encouragingly tossed a scoreless frame for a second straight game behind Sabathia.
Home Run Derby champ Aaron Judge was just 1-for-14 through the first three games, but Didi Gregorius, who laced the tiebreaking single the previous night, also hooked a 295-foot solo shot off Rick Porcello just inside the Pesky Pole in the fifth inning for a three-run lead.
“It just shows you a lot about this team, how tough we are,” Sabathia said. “Obviously, we struggled the last two weeks before the break, and a tough loss on Friday night.
“Just to be able to come back and battle (Saturday) night, really battle and get a win come out today, it feels good. The core of this team are tough guys. We go out there and lay everything out on the field every night. And it shows up.”
Sabathia certainly showed up in a substantial way when the Yanks needed him to most, with three bullpen reinforcements summoned from Triple-A before the game. The pending free agent even asked Girardi if he could go back to the mound for a seventh inning after throwing 97 pitches through six.
“Obviously you know having a doubleheader, the bullpen is going to be tough after however-many innings we played (Saturday) night. You want to go out and get some length and help the team out,” said the 36-year-old Sabathia, now 5-1 with a 1.60 ERA in his last eight starts and 8-3 overall. “I was tired, but I told Joe I could give him one more.”
Still, Girardi wisely took more of a long view, saying: “I think if he had not gone on the DL and was built up a little more, I probably would’ve sent him out. He just asked and I just told him no. We have a long ways to go.”
With 90 games down (48-42) and 72 remaining, the Yanks have put themselves in position to have plenty of important baseball games left to play, even despite their recent 7-19 slide.
And it still looks as if Sabathia plans to play a key role in some of them.