CLEVELAND -- New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia has logged more than 3,300 innings in 509 starts over his 16-year career in Major League Baseball, and yet, at 37 years old, he still finds himself in the necessary shape to start a winner-take-all game in the postseason.
Tonight, Sabathia will take the mound at Progressive Field against his former team, the Cleveland Indians, in Game 5 of the 2017 American League Division Series, where the winner will advance to the AL Championship Series for a best-of-seven matchup against the Houston Astros beginning on Friday night.
“When you saw him younger, boy, he was -- you know, he still does it, actually,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He probably doesn't feel this way, but when he throws, it looks like it doesn't hurt.
“You see a lot of pitchers out there that have logged innings and they've changed their mechanics and things. He's always had such a pretty arm swing and he's got such a nice feel for the ball. He can manipulate the ball a lot.”
At one point in early August, Sabathia was not sure what his future held in the game of baseball, or if there was one at all when he walked off of the mound at Rogers Centre after just three innings of work against the Toronto Blue Jays.
After allowing four earned runs, two home runs, one walk and six hits in a 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays, Sabathia underwent a battery of tests, but following a 10-day rest period due to knee issues, he returned to the mound and has been a mainstay in the Yankees’ rotation since.
From 2013 to 2015, Sabathia went through a rough patch, both with knee problems and off-the-field issues, having earned run averages of over 4.50 in each season and posting a 23-27 record.
However, after a third straight losing season in 2016, Sabathia went 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA in 27 starts in 2017 for a Yankees team that won the AL Wild Card Game against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium last Tuesday night to earn their spot in the ALDS.
Sabathia allowed only two earned runs and three hits, but surrendered three walks against five strikeouts over 5.1 innings of work in Game 2 of the AL Division Series, which the Yankees dominated early, only to succumb to the Indians in 13 innings.
And now, Sabathia will take his skills to the center of the diamond in Cleveland one final time this season with a chance to pitch the Yankees into the ALCS.
“He doesn't have the power that he did, which I think is natural, but he's got a really good feel for pitching,” Francona said.
“We're going to have to lay off the breaking ball that's the strike-to-ball breaking ball. We've been a little over aggressive this series. We've gotten in where we're chasing fastballs up, and then, we're swinging at breaking balls down. We're going to have to do one or the other.
“CC's been doing this a long time, and if you don't make him stay in the zone, he will exploit that.”