BOSTON — CC Sabathia escaped the second inning Saturday at Fenway Park, allowing one run and stranding the two runners he had put on base with walks. With that, he reached 200 innings for the seventh season in a row.
Soon enough, he also reached 13 losses, extending a career high.
“Sometimes guys throw as many pitches as he has in his career, they go through periods of this,” said Larry Rothschild, the New York Yankees’ pitching coach. “Hopefully, he gets through this last half of this year and it’s over with, and he gets some rest and gets back to having his strength.”
The Yankees had better hope so. They will pay Sabathia $71 million over the next three seasons. Unless he has a major shoulder injury at the end of that deal, he gets another $25 million in 2017.
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Sabathia (13-13) has done so much for the Yankees that he can be excused for one rough season. Even so, the numbers are alarming: Sabathia is the runaway major league leader in earned runs allowed, with 111, and his 4.90 earned-run average has been surpassed by just five starters this year.
The only pitchers who qualify for the ERA title and have a worse mark than Sabathia are Edinson Volquez, Joe Saunders, Jeremy Hellickson, Dan Haren and Roberto Hernandez.
That is a steep slide for Sabathia, 33, who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2007 and ranked among the top five in voting the next four seasons. It is hard for him to focus on dominance with so many baserunners zipping around.
“While you’re out there, you’re just trying to limit the damage,” Sabathia said. “I’ve always been a guy that said, ‘Bend, don’t break’ — and I’ve been breaking a lot this year. I get a couple of guys on base, and I’m not able to make the pitch to get out of the inning. That’s something that I prided myself on my whole career, and it just hasn’t happened this year.”
Sabathia all but willed the Yankees to the American League Championship Series last fall by stifling the Baltimore Orioles with a complete game to close out the first round. The Detroit Tigers torched Sabathia four games later, and then he had elbow surgery.
The bone spur is gone now, but so is Sabathia’s precision. Last season, he led the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio, with 4.48 strikeouts for every base on balls. This year, the figure has dropped to 2.76.
“I felt like early in the year I didn’t have the stuff to compete, so maybe that’s why I was getting hit around,” he said. “I think right now I have the stuff to compete. It’s just me putting together a good game.”
Then again, Sabathia said his stuff was off Saturday. He fell behind in counts and said his front shoulder was flying open in his delivery. Sabathia said he was tired of hearing that he was close to resolving his problems.
“I don’t see it,” he said. “I want results. I know the team wants results. I know the fans want results. It’s just tough not being able to deliver.”
Rothschild said Sabathia had struggled to keep a consistent release point and create the downward angles that, at 6-foot-7, have made him so devastating. With the front shoulder opening too quickly, the arm drags behind, the pitches flatten out and hitters get a better look.
Those problems can be corrected. Declining velocity might be another matter. In 2009, Sabathia’s first season with the Yankees, his average fastball was 94.2 mph, according to Fangraphs. This year it has been 91 mph, the slowest of his career.
“In years past he threw a lot harder, I thought,” said Boston’s Mike Napoli, adding that the harder fastball made Sabathia’s change-up more effective. “Maybe it’s just one of them years. He still goes out there and grinds and gets deep into games. We just got to him.”