TAMPA, Fla. – CC Sabathia was once the most dominant pitcher in the game.
He was a man amongst boys on the mound, a workhorse with overpowering stuff and stingy in allowing runs.
It’s why Sabathia has a Cy Young on his resume.
Forget about his first impressive seven years with the Cleveland Indians. In his first three seasons with the New York Yankees – starting in 2009 – he averaged 19.6 wins, a single win away from averaging 20 wins a season. With any ERA never exceeding 3.37 in any of those seasons, the big, strong lefthander was the Yankees’ ace and the arm that the Yankees were depending upon to lead them to another World Series title.
Not anymore, however.
While injuries have sidelined Sabathia of late, he’s on the comeback trail. In fact, his start on Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays at Steinbrenner Field will be his first big step back toward his return back on the mound.
Although he pitched two scoreless innings in a simulated game last Thursday, this will be Sabathia’s spring debut.
“I’m excited just to get back,” said Sabathia, who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since May 10th. “I spent the whole summer last year just rehabbing. I just kind of felt like I was red-shirting. I was in the training room all year.
“So I’m back. I’m happy and out to compete to win another World Series.”
The sweet World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies was in 2009, Sabathia’s first season in Da Bronx.
But a lot has happened since then.
Sabathia, 34, suffered a right knee injury that ultimately required surgery, and the Yankees aren’t the same.
The injury bug really hurt them in 2014. Derek Jeter is gone, Alex Rodriguez is back from suspension, and there are a lot of new faces in pinstripes.
“If we stay healthy, we have a team in here that can get it done,” Sabathia said. “We won 83 ballgames with a lot of injuries last year. Imagine if we stay healthy what kind of numbers we can put up.”
The number for Sabathia this spring was 305. That was his weight when he reported to spring training this year. A year ago, he tipped the scales at just 275. Many thought he was too light for his frame.
Sabathia’s weight loss wasn’t a vain thing to improve his looks. “I was just trying to get healthy,” he said. And with good reason.
Sabathia said had high blood pressure and heart disease runs in his family. “I dealt with a death in my family with someone close to my age and had heart disease and wanted to make sure I was healthy,” he said. “And that I was doing the right things.
“I am healthy. I feel great back at the weight I’m at.”
As he looks back now, Sabathia admits he might have gone a little bit overboard. “Maybe I did lose a little bit too much
In his only spring action thus far, a simulated game, Sabathia threw 29 pitches in two innings against Yankees minor leaguers. Sabathia told Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi that he felt great afterward. “That’s always music to my ears,” Girardi told the media.
As far as his stuff on the mound, Sabathia said, “I feel more powerful and I’m throwing the ball a lot better.”
Yankees fans can only hope he can stay healthy and be that dependable starter he’s been most of his career. In his 15th season in the majors, Sabathia’s first season with more losses than wins happened in 2014.
“It’s been frustrating,” said Sabathia, who was 3-4 with a bloated 5.28 ERA in just eight starts. “It’s the first time I haven’t been able to perform just because of injury, just having poor performances.
“So coming into spring training this year, I’m just so happy to be back with the guys and be able to participate.”
Many aren’t sure what the Yankees will get out of Sabathia this coming season. Despite his stellar resume, it’s natural to be hesitant in predicting (immediate) results, especially when a player is older and is coming off a major injury.
Sabathia knows he has to earn his way back in the rotation that has changed a lot since last May.
“Any spot they give me, any time they want me to pitch, I’m ready to go,” he said. “I’m just happy to be healthy.”
And, you can bet, so are the Yankees.