Much of the talk during this past offseason and into the early days of spring training has been on the slimmed down leader of the Yankees’ starting rotation, C.C. Sabathia. The once 300+ lb. lefty lost a considerable amount of weight heading in last season, and many believe it was the primary reason for his worst statistical year in the big leagues.
Arriving in camp this season, Sabathia appears even more fit and trim than he did last year, and once again, the questions have started about what kind of pitcher he will be in 2014. Sabathia believes his struggles last year were in part, a combination of dropping too much weight too quickly, and trying to rehab his surgically-repaired elbow, which didn’t fully heal in time for the start of the season. He failed to build up the endurance and arm strength needed to push through the grind of a long baseball season. One of the other noticeable differences last year for Sabathia compared to the past, was his drop in velocity on his once-blazing fastball.
After posting a horrid 4.78 ERA, Sabathia expects some of his heat to return, as he has had the time necessary to build both the endurance and arm strength back that was missing last year. He claims to feel stronger and in better shape than he has in any year of his previous 13 seasons in the big leagues. What is Sabathia’s plan if once spring training draws to a close, and he reaches back for old faithful, and the gas just isn’t in the arsenal anymore? Sabathia says he will do what had previously been successful for longtime Yankee hurler and former teammate Andy Pettitte.
What worked for Pettitte, was location and wise-use of his secondary pitches. Pettitte won double-digit games for years, while topping out on the radar gun in the low-90s. If Sabathia realizes sooner rather than later that he is in the same boat, he will have to rely on hit cutter and his changeup and outsmart opposing hitters rather than trying to blow them away with straight heat. Sabathia credits Pettitte with being a mentor, a leader, and a friend to him during their time together in the Bronx. Sabathia added: “I watched Andy do his thing for a number of years. I am not really concerned. I am healthy and ready to go.”
Those who are close to C.C. Sabathia will tell you that he takes personal responsibility for the Yankees missing out on the playoffs for only the second time since 1995. He believes that he can be successful pitching at any velocity if he uses his experience and knowledge of the opposing hitters that step to the plate. If he learned anything from Pettitte, he learned that using athleticism, making adjustments, and not trying to force things that just don’t happen is the roadmap to pitching success in the Major Leagues. For Sabathia to remain a force for the Yankees, he needs to understand himself more than anything.