Gone is CC Sabathia’s cheddar — presumably from his dinner table in addition to his pitching arsenal. It happens to most, if not all pitchers as they advance in their career. The fastball loses a few miles per hour and the game becomes one of adjustments. Some are able to make the adjustment better than others, and some are not able to adjust at all. Sabathia seems to have reached these crossroads.
CC struggled to find his form in 2013 posting a 4.78 ERA, more than a run above his career mark of 3.60, with a career-high WHIP of 1.37. There is little doubt this was due, at least in part, to the drop in the average speed of his fastball to 91 mph, unchartered territory for the formerly hefty lefty.
But Sabathia has always been a pitcher, not just a thrower, and confidence remains high in Yankees camp that he will continue to evolve and will again find his footing at the front of the rotation. Being that Sabathia is guaranteed $71 million over the 2014-2016 seasons, with another $25 million due in 2017 as long as he is able to avoid an injury to his left shoulder in 2016, the Yankees certainly hope so.
Sabathia has none other than Andy Pettitte, another All-Star southpaw, helping him out this spring with a spotlight on pounding the strike zone, locating pitches, movement and trickery. The ability to command and locate pitches are keys to any pitcher’s success, but it is of paramount importance to those without the ability to reach back and dial up a 95+ mph heater. Pettitte sees no reason why Sabathia won’t be able to adjust to his diminished velocity. “If the velocity isn’t there,” Pettitte said, “it’s better to have some movement on it…He’s too much of a competitor to not be successful. He’s got a great club around him. He’s going to be just fine.”
As he enters his 14th season full of grit and determination, Sabathia has given us no reason to believe he won’t return to his well-earned place as one of the best left-handers in the game. However, perhaps just as big a change as dealing with the physical limitations he now faces, will be the philosophical metamorphosis he’ll have to undergo to know he can get big league hitters out without the ability to call on his fastball of year’s past.
Sabathia for one, doesn’t seem too worried, “My fastball is what it is. If it gets better, it will. If not, it won’t. I can pitch. I’m fine. As long as I am healthy, I’ll be good.”