Yes, it is only the first game of the season. And no, it is not correct to hold one game against a great career of amassed statistics like the one possessed by CC Sabathia. That being said, something is definitely wrong with the Yankees’ new high priced ace. In a horrible opening day outing on Monday, Sabathia posted a brutal stat line: In 4.1 innings pitched, Sabathia gave up six runs on five hits, walking five and striking out no one for the first time in 251 starts. Striking out no one? The man who blew away 8.9 hitters per nine innings last season didn’t K a single Oriole? Consider that the opening evidence in the case for panic over Sabathia’s first start.
And it gets worse. Throughout the entire game Sabathia had literally no command of his greatly diminished fastball. Topping out at around 91 mph on the gun, CC threw two wild pitches in the first inning (he threw three all last season) and was consistently behind nearly every man he faced for the entirety of his outing, even walking in a run with the bases loaded.
It was a disastrous combination of the absence of control and power that rendered CC totally ineffective against a mediocre Baltimore lineup that is no where near the caliber he will be expected to attack as the Yankees navigate through their AL East heavy schedule. After a solid spring in which he struck out 21 batters in 19 innings, Sabathia looked totally unprepared for the regular season; his pitches both constantly erratic and entirely hittable.
But lets be realistic. This is the 2007 AL Cy Young award winner we are talking about here. A 28-year-old superstar in the prime of his career; not a washed up, over-paid, has-been like past Yankees Kevin Brown or Randy Johnson. Something must be wrong here. And the greatest indications to this — beyond the obvious statistical concurrence — were the shots of CC between innings, with a large heating pad strapped to his ribs. While, on a cold, damp April afternoon, it would not be out of the ordinary to see a pitcher use such a device on his arm — or even his hands — what reason could Sabathia have for using this on his ribs lest he be injured?
This is the main point from which a troubling analysis of Sabathia’s performance can be drawn. Had CC gotten tagged for a few runs, and simply had a bad outing, one could dismiss his performance as an early season anomaly, on a day with rough pitching weather. But the combination of Sabathia’s lack of command and speed, considered with the shots of him treating his ribs in the dugout, make a dismissal a seemingly naive proposition.
Something is definitely physically amiss with Sabathia, and he most likely shouldn’t have gone as deep into Monday’s game as he did. The extent of his injury is the question Yankees fans, and the organization, now must concern themselves with.
Already facing a two-month absence from their highest quality power hitter, losing the anointed ace of their staff could be fatal to the Yankee in the hyper-competitive AL East. From that same perspective, a short absence early on is highly favorable to a prolonged stint on the DL later in the season, caused by exasperating the injury with continuous pitching now. While every game is statistically important in baseball, the Yankees, their manager, and Sabathia himself cannot be so fearful of a slow start that the pitcher ends up playing at less than 100%, and risks worsening an existing problem that could have been healed quickly with rest and basic treatment.
However the prognosis turns out — assuming a situation is acknowledged by the organization — if the “injury” causes Sabathia to pitch like he did on Monday, the Yankees are far better off resting him based on performance purposes alone, as they won’t get many wins relying on their bullpen for 5 2/3 innngs, as they did on Monday.
Aside from Sabathia, the Yankees actually looked solid in their season opener, showing flashes of the effectiveness that their new style affords them.
Derek Jeter hit well from the leadoff spot, going 3-for-5 in his first appearance of the season. Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui were also effective, looking fully recovered from the myriad of injuries that plagued both last season. Each contributed a home run — Posada with a solo shot and Matsui with a two run blast — and a power surge that the Yankees will sorely need, especially during A-Rod’s absence.
New York also showed off their defense and versatility. New centerfielder Brent Gardner showed great range in the outfield, while going 1-for-3 at the plate, with a run scored. His value from the nine hole — and as an eventual lead-off hitter — was evident as he led seamlessly into Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon at the top of the lineup.
The virtues of this advantage were on display in the 3rd inning, when Gardner reached base on a slashing single to left. He then proceeded to execute his half of a perfect hit and run in which his sprint for second base opened up a whole on the left side of the infield that Jeter promptly placed the ball into. Gardner reached third on the play and would score a batter later on a sacrifice fly by Damon. Had the hit and run not been on — or the runner on base been less of a threat to steal — Jeter’s single would have been a tailor-made double play ball. It is a basic and fundamental baseball sequence, but it is one that has been absent from the Yankees repertoire for far too long.
On that same note of newfound versatility, super-bench player Nick Swisher ripped a double in his only plate appearance, pinch-hitting for Cody Ransom in the eighth inning. Swisher will see some field time as a starter, but he proved on Monday that he is a sharp weapon coming off of the bench. A solid hitter who reaches base consistently, his switch-hitting abilities create obvious matchup problems for today’s specialized bullpen schemes, allowing the Yankees to control the cadence of late-inning situations.
New York, like any other team, needs effective starting pitching to win baseball games. As in most years, the Yankees will score runs. Although their foundation for consistency in scoring is much more solid then it has been in nine years, the pitching requiem that is cannon in baseball, still applies.
While offensive stars like Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Tino Martinez received the majority of the headlines during the Yankee dynasty in the 90s, it was pitchers like David Wells, David Cone, and Andy Pettitte that set those squads so far beyond the rest of the field. For them to win today, it must once again be their pitching that carries the team to the World Series and an elite status. And CC Sabathia must be more David Cone, and less Kevin Brown.