Thursday, April 18, 2013
"Smoke and Mirrors", that was CC Sabathia's explanation after he earned the victory Wednesday night despite not having his best stuff. With his fastball hovering at 90 mph, Sabathia fought his way through eight innings. It was long enough for the Yankees to mount a comeback from a 3-0 deficit to gain a 4-3 win on Travis Hafner's 8th inning pinch-hit home run. Mariano Rivera closed it out for the Yankees seventh win in eight games.
After the top of the first inning, it appeared the Yankees would go down to defeat and Sabathia wouldn't make it past the 5th inning. But after he gave up a 2-run home run to Paul Goldschmidt and threw 31 pitches to start the game, Sabathia allowed just one more run and averaged 11 pitches per inning over the remainder of the game.
While the smoke and mirrors might have been said tongue in cheek, there's no question that Sabathia has already learned a valuable lesson that it has taken other hard throwers much longer to learn. When the fastball isn't there, change your approach, mix things up, and keep the hitters off balance. People talk about Sabathia's ability to go deep in games and his desire to have the baseball in big spots. What you don't hear enough is the degree of "pitching intelligence" that Sabathia has. It's the key ingredient that separates the game's top pitchers from the average ones.
In recent Yankees history you can point to Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson as two veterans who it took a while to master the change in their game approach. Both had nagging injuries, but both bounced back when they used a different approach to attack hitters. In his final season (2008) in baseball, Mussina earned his 20th win in a season for the first time. The prior year saw Mussina post career worst numbers in ERA,WHIP and hits per/9 IP, and the lowest innings total of his career.
Johnson was revitalized after he left the Big Apple. A stubborn mule, it took the "Big Unit" a couple of years to learn how to pitch with a balky back and a lot less velocity. The 17 wins he earned in his second season (2006) with the Yankees was completely misleading. A 5.00 ERA and the worst K/9 IP ratio of his career wasn't helped by Johnson's surly attitude.
If Sabathia's left elbow is healthy or not, if he regains some of his lost velocity or just continues with what he's got, the Yankees won't need to worry about Sabathia keeping them in games.