Sabathia's new, leaner fastball, to go along with his new leaner body, clocked in at around 88 MPH in his first spring start back on March 1 (he had a gun-free simulated game on March 6). The likelihood is it won't be a heck of a lot faster on Tuesday.
And yet, that is no reason for panic among Yankee fans that the nominal ace of their pitching staff is headed for another sub-par season in 2014. Trying to predict in-season production off spring training performance is a fool's gambit, since the object of these games is not to break speed records, or even necessarily to win games, so much as it is simply to get ready for the games that really count.
And in Sabathia's case, that may mean re-learning how to pitch effectively with a reduced arsenal. And that is going to take some time.
Necessity is the mother of re-invention, and at 33 years old -- he turns 34 in July -- Sabathia may be facing the toughest challenge of his career as he transitions from power pitcher to simply pitcher. And there's no way we're going to know if he can do that off this start, or the one after that or the one after that. In fact, it may take a healthy chunk of the regular season before we can even begin to make a fair judgment on how much CC has left, and how much he can contribute to the Yankees this season, and for the remaining two seasons -- plus an option -- remaining on his contract.
Of course, plenty of pitchers have had great careers with the kind of repertoire Sabathia seems to have now. Tom Glavine rode an 89-MPH fastball all the way to Cooperstown, and David Wells never threw much harder.
The difference is, those guys started out like that. They never had to make the kind of adjustment that CC is going to have to make now. That is the challenge that faces him, and none of us should expect him to make it overnight. Suffice it to say that Sabathia's changeup, a huge part of his arsenal in 2009, will be a key pitch for him this season.
The Nationals, among the favorites to win the 2014 World Series -- at least one online betting site lists Washington's odds at 12-1, the Yankees at 14-1 -- have a strong lineup featuring the likes of Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche, although we won't know how many of them will be in the lineup against Sabathia until Tuesday morning. It is possible he'll get smacked around some. It's also possible he will shut them down.
Either way, it won't really make much of a difference. The odds are that CC Sabathia is going to be a work in progress for all of this spring training, and for at least part of the 2014 regular season. Reinventions are never easy and never quick.
Let's give Sabathia as much time as he needs to accomplish this one. In a lot of ways, the Yankees season may depend on it.
Q: What other sports did you play besides baseball as a kid?
A: PE? Does that count?
A: PE classes, I took it really seriously.
Q: Was there another sport besides baseball that you played a lot?
A: I feel I’m pretty good all around, besides basketball.
Q: So you're not good at basketball?
A: No sense.
A: I really didn’t have one particular athlete I liked growing up.
Q: Were there a few you liked watching?
A: When I was in high school I liked watching Kazumi Saito.
Q: Why Saito?
A: The pitching style he had. His fastballs were really fast. His determination for the game was something special. He was a fighter.
Q: How about an American athlete?
A: Not really.
Q: Favorite actor?
A: I’m not really into movies so I don’t have one.
Q: What do you like to do away from the field?
Q: What type of handicap are you?
A: I’m not good at all [laughing]. I’d probably [score] about 100.
Q: When did you first start playing?
A: Offseason of 2007.
Q: So seven years.
A: It is only been seven or eight years. I only play in the offseason. I have to get better at that sport.
Q: Is Tiger Woods your favorite or somebody else?
A: I watch golf, just looking at the pros and I’m in awe of how they play. Not one particular player, maybe all the players.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: They are retired right now. They worked at a regular company.
Q: What did you learn from them?
Q: What is your favorite type of music?
A: Pop music from Japan.
Q: Your wife's?
A: Not necessarily my wife’s music. I’m not necessarily a fan of my wife’s music [laughing].
Q: Three dinner guests from now or history, who would they be?
A: It is really hard to come up with somebody because it is unrealistic. I really can’t think of anyone. Sorry [in English and smiling].
Q: No problem. Let’s go back to baseball, when did you start throwing your splitter?
A: Probably 2010.
Q: When did you know, "Wow, this is a really good pitch?"
A: When I first pitched in the bullpen, I knew right away.
Q: What is the most pressure you felt on the mound?
A: Probably would be the WBC game last year, would definitely be one of them and also the Japan Series, pitching in that game would be one of the most pressured ones for me.
Q: The Yankees liked how you handle pressure. They felt you threw your fastball a little bit harder when you needed to. What do you do in those moments?
A: Every game is the same for me. I just go into a game and try to look at the situation and what needs to be done. I try to execute.
Q: What was the first thing you bought after you signed your Yankees contract?
Q: Plane ride?
A: It probably might be that. The plane ride from Japan to New York.
A: Thank you.
At this time last year, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Michael Pineda were well on their way to missing all or most of 2013.
So let's run down five things we have seen:
1. Saluting No. 2: Whatever happens in 2014, the year will be remembered for Derek Jeter retiring. On the field thus far, he is clearly moving better than last spring. He seems much more natural and fluid on his repaired ankle. After failing to hit the ball out of the infield in his first 10 at-bats, he has picked it up at the plate. He has four hits in his last seven at-bats.
2. CC's velocity: CC Sabathia threw only 88 mph his first time out. He had a simulated game his second turn around. On Tuesday, he will be in Viera to face the Nationals.
The importance of velocity always comes up every spring. Yes, it is possible to be successful with it reduced, though it is difficult to be an ace. For those who really like to belittle it, why do you think teams are always drafting guys that throw in the 90s?
So at 33 years old, off a bad year with a reduced heater, Sabathia's fastball needs to be watched.
3. Big men on campus: Tucked in the left corner of the clubhouse, there are nearly 14 feet of pitchers. The 6-foot-7 Michael Pineda and the 6-foot-8 Dellin Betances have been impressive in camp.
Pineda has had only one outing, but it was a pretty incredible one for spring training. If he builds on it, he could be a game-changer. It is still early, but Pineda may end up being the most exciting aspect of this Yankees camp.
Betances' rebirth as a possible reliever option is also interesting. He ate the minors up in the pen in 2013 and has continued that in the spring so far.
4. Handling New York: Masahiro Tanaka has arrived exactly as advertised, as Brian McCann put it the other day.
Though we have witnessed the vaunted splitter, we really won't start to know how good of an MLB starter he is until about June. However, what has stood out for me is the 25-year-old has a presence and handles all the attention with ease.
By the way, we put him under the ESPN New York Q&A spotlight, so look for that on Monday morning.
5. The roster: Let's project the roster, going with 12 pitchers and 13 position players.
2. Hiroki Kuroda
3. Ivan Nova
6. David Robertson
7. Shawn Kelley
8. Matt Thornton
9. Preston Claiborne
10. David Phelps
11. Adam Warren
12. Dellin Betances
The position players
13. Mark Teixeira, 1B
14. Brian Roberts, 2B
15. Jeter, SS
16. McCann, C
17. Francisco Cervelli, C
18. Kelly Johnson, 3B
19. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF
20. Brett Gardner, OF
21. Carlos Beltran, OF
22. Alfonso Soriano, DH
23. Brendan Ryan, INF
24. Ichiro Suzuki, OF
25. Eduardo Nunez, INF
The last spots on this roster are far from a sure thing. Cesar Cabral, a second lefty, could beat out Betances for the final spot. But Betances has looked good.
After Sunday, he has thrown 6 1/3 scoreless spring innings. On Sunday, he let a man reach third but escaped by forcing Wil Myers to bounce out to second. Betances is making a strong case. Cabral has thrown 4 1/3 scoreless innings. There could be room for both because an injury of some sort will invariably happen.
The fifth starter spot is still up grabs. Phelps threw five scoreless on Sunday, which keeps him very much in the race. Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno are still contenders as well, but if Pineda builds on what he did Friday, it is his job.
In the infield, Nunez may not make this club. Let's be clear, I'm not saying Nunez won't make it, but Yangervis Solarte -- hitting .588 in 17 at-bats -- has played very well. He is not on the 40-man, so the Yankees would have to maneuver to have him on the team. Scott Sizemore, coming back from a bad knee injury, and Dean Anna also have shots to stick. All could be in the mix during the year because the Opening Day roster -- while a big deal symbolically -- is always evolving.
In years past, Jeter, deferring to Alex Rodriguez's needs, would go to the opposite side of the infield.
"It feels worse for me if I'm on the other side of second," Jeter said. "It is like looking in the mirror backwards. That's why we are doing it. Alex didn't like it either, so I was forced to do it in the past. The guys that are playing third now have played second as well."
Jeter went 0-for-3 but did hit one line scorcher to first. He is batting .235 in 17 at-bats.
Jeter mentioned A-Rod's name at his news conference, but other than that, players have not brought up the suspended Rodriguez's name.
Notes: David Phelps helped his fifth-starter hopes by throwing five scoreless innings. ... Dellin Betances, competing for a bullpen job, threw a scoreless inning. Betances gave up a double but ended the inning by using six slurves -- his version of a curveball and slider -- to get out of the jam. He finished off the inning by retiring Wil Myers.
"I was like, 'Damn, I threw six straight breaking pitches,'" Betances said.
Betances has thrown a team-best 6 1/3 scoreless innings.
Kelly Johnson got nailed in the back by a fastball. He was fine. Johnson, who is the starting third baseman and the backup for nearly everywhere else, played first on Sunday without any incidents. ... Jose Ramirez, who had a chance to make the team as a reliever, has been optioned to Triple-A. He has an oblique injury. Lefty Francisco Rondon was sent to the minors, as well. ...
The Yankees have a full off day on Monday before going to Viera on Tuesday to face the Nationals. CC Sabathia will start. Masahiro Tanaka will throw a simulated game Tuesday in Tampa.
Phelps, who gave up three hits and struck out one, is competing with Michael Pineda, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno for the final rotation spot behind CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova. The right-hander has been touched for two runs over 9 2/3 innings in three spring training starts.
Alfonso Soriano had an infield single and Ellsbury doubled off the Tampa Bay right-hander, who went 9-7 with a 3.22 ERA over 23 starts during his rookie season last year.
New York Yankees
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Derek Jeter, SS
Carlos Beltran, RF
Brian McCann, C
Alfonso Soriano, LF
Kelly Johnson, 1B
Brian Roberts, 2B
Ichiro Suzuki, DH
Yangervis Solarte, 3B
David Phelps, P
Tampa Bay Rays
Desmond Jennings, CF
Matt Joyce, LF
Wil Myers, RF
James Loney, 1B
Sean Rodriguez, 3B
Cole Figueroa, 2B
Ryan Hanigan, C
Jose Molina, DH
Jayson Nix, SS
Chris Archer, P
NOTES: Manny Banuelos said he felt fine after his first appearance in nearly two years on Saturday. Banuelos, who had Tommy John surgery, feels he will gain confidence from knowing he was lighting the radar gun up at 93.
The fact that Banuelos gave up a three-run homer to Chris Carter ripped a nice little bow from the story. However, the radar gun readings on Banuelos topped out at 93 and Banuelos' elbow felt fine.
"The best thing is I feel healthy," said Banuelos, still a few days shy of his 23rd birthday.
To begin the fifth, Banuelos allowed a chopped double down the third-base line to Jose Altuve before walking Jason Castro. He next hung a change to Carter, who did what major league home run hitters do.
Banuelos retired the final two batters and, as Joe Girardi noted, he left with a smile. It became a bit larger when he found out his velocity was in the 90s.
"They said it was 3," Banuelos said, meaning 93. "That was awesome. I thought it was 89-90."
Banuelos' pitches still leave his hand like they are on a spring, according to former major league manager and current special assistant Trey Hillman. Girardi mentioned the confidence that Banuelos exudes. He walks around the clubhouse like a big leaguer.
“We believe he has a high ceiling,” Girardi said. “If he were to help us this year, I can’t say how that will be. We are going to look at everything that gives us the best 12-man pitching staff.”
Banuelos could be a big part of a young pitching transformation that might materialize for the organization over the next year and beyond.
On Friday, a healthy-looking Michael Pineda, 25, made an impressive return, highlighted by striking out the best hitter in baseball, Miguel Cabrera. Masahiro Tanaka, 25, has displayed his world-class splitter and seems like he could be a No. 3 or better if expectations don't swallow him up. Ivan Nova, 27, had a 2.70 ERA over his final 16 starts in 2013 when he was clearly the Yankees' best pitcher.
Dellin Betances, who turns 26 this month, has thrown 5 1/3 scoreless innings this spring. He is putting himself in position to make the team as a one- or two-inning reliever.
"Two days in a row," an excited Francisco Cervelli said. "To see Pineda yesterday and Manny, I know that he has been working so hard."
In this game, things can change swiftly. A year ago, the Red Sox were an organization in disarray. Now, they are the world champs.
The Yankees could see their young pitching prospects make that sort of leap in 2014. A weekend in March foretells nothing definitive, but the seeds for October harvests are planted in the baking sun of Florida. So, it is OK for Yankee fans to dream a little about what they're reading, hearing and seeing about these potential comebacks.
Betances is already making a strong impression. Girardi pointed to the 6-foot-8 righty as someone who has stood out thus far.
The Yankees thought Betances could be a top starter, but could settle for him being a top bullpen piece. At Triple-A in 2013, he had a 1.35 ERA over 32 relief appearances, spanning 60 innings.
Betances and Banuelos have remained close, as they've grown up with the hype of being the Killer B's (the third "B," Andrew Brackman, is long gone from the organization).
When Banuelos underwent Tommy John surgery, Betances had some advice for his younger friend. Betances told him to keep a positive mindset, focusing on the fact he is at Triple-A, still just one step away from the big leagues. Betances also emphasized that Banuelos is still very young.
The two hang out all the time in Tampa, going out to eat and playing video games. (Betances wanted to make sure it was mentioned that he consistently beats Baneulos in FIFA soccer.)
The Yankees are considering Banuelos for an Opening Day bullpen spot. More likely -- and more prudently -- Banuelos will begin as the No. 1 starter at Triple-A.
Banuelos might not have gotten the result he wanted Saturday, but he was in the right place.
"Now, I'm back, so I keep working hard and forget the past," Banuelos said.
Teixeira, playing in his second spring game after missing most of last season due to wrist surgery, led off the third inning with a long double off reliever Darin Downs. Johnson hit the next pitch for his first homer.
Ivan Nova gave up three runs and eight hits in four innings in his second sprig start for the Yankees. Carter's first spring home run came off Manny Banuelos, the 23-year-old left-hander who didn't pitch last season after having elbow surgery.
When you consider the Yankees have no true backup for him, Teixeira's importance swells. On Saturday, he doubled in his second start of the spring. Overall, Teixeira went 1-for-2 with a walk.
"I really am knocking the rust off," Teixeira said.
Teixeira played just 15 games last season because of wrist surgery. He said he will next play Tuesday in Viera against the Washington Nationals.
GAME CHANGES: Ivan Nova left with a poor line -- four innings, three runs (all earned) on eight hits with five strikeouts and no walks -- but he showed the ability to adjust.
When you look at how Nova has grown -- and will continue to grow -- as a starter, it is his ability to make in-game changes. Nova got hit hard in the first -- he gave up half of his hits and two of his runs in the inning -- but then made a little change so he wasn't leaving his pitches up. It is a small thing now, but if he can continue to do that during the regular season, it'll make a difference in winning games and saving the bullpen.
KELLY'S A HERO: Starting third baseman Kelly Johnson hit a two-run homer. Johnson, who is the backup to everything, will give first base a try Sunday at Steinbrenner Field.
"It would be a lot weirder if I was younger, a little newer in the game," Johnson said. "I've been around just enough to feel a little more comfortable."
Johnson has played first base just three times in the majors.
Banuelos, who turns 23 next week, will pitch in relief after Ivan Nova.
“We believe he has a high ceiling,” Joe Girardi said of Banuelos, who last pitched in May 2012 and has since undergone Tommy John surgery. “If he were to help us this year, I can’t say how that will be. We are going to look at everything that gives us the best 12-man pitching staff.”
Check back later today as I plan to have a longer post about the possible rejuvenation of the Yankees' young pitchers.
MORE PINEDA: Michael Pineda looked very impressive Friday, striking out Miguel Cabrera and throwing in the low-90s. What did pitching coach Larry Rothschild think?
"He had a good breaking ball," Rothschild said. "He had some power in his arm. That is a good combination. It is a good step in the right direction."
TEX TEST: Mark Teixeira will start his second exhibition game. ... Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to throw a simulated game Tuesday. He said he thinks it will be a good learning experience, because he has never pitched in one before. Tanaka will make his next exhibition start at Steinbrenner Field on Sunday, March 16.
NOTES: Girardi said there is no real concern with Brendan Ryan, who the manager said had a little ache in his side. An MRI was negative. ... Asked to highlight a couple of pitchers who have caught his eye, Girardi mentioned Dellin Betances and lefty Fred Lewis. Betances would be a one- or two-inning guy, if he were to make the team. The 6-foot-8 Betances, who turns 26 in two weeks, has options. By the way, he is as nice a guy as he is big.
LINEUP: The game, against the Astros, is on MLB Network. Here is the lineup:
Brett Gardner, CF
Eduardo Nunez, 2B
Kelly Johnson, DH
Francisco Cervelli, C
Dean Anna, SS
Scott Sizemore, 3B
Zoilo Almonte, LF
Mason Williams, RF
TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees fifth starter candidate Michael Pineda struck out four and gave up one hit over two shutout innings in his first spring training start, New York's 3-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Friday night.
Pineda missed the last two seasons due to a right shoulder injury that required surgery. He pitched the fifth and sixth innings, ending his outing by striking out Miguel Cabrera.
The right-hander faced 10 batters in a simulated game Sunday, allowing two hits, striking out one and walking his final two hitters.
Former Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain struck out two, walked one and gave up a hit during a scoreless seventh in his first appearance at Steinbrenner Field since signing a $2.5 million, one-year contract with Detroit. He got a mixed reaction from the fans.
After ball one, Pineda went to work. He used a slider that Cabrera missed to even up the count. He followed that up with a nasty curve. Up 1-2, Pineda returned to the slider, and Cabrera could not stop his swing.
"It is tough to get Cabrera to swing and miss twice," one scout said.
In all, Pineda went two shutout innings. He struck out four and walked none. His precision was excellent, firing 21 of his 27 pitches for strikes.
And his velocity?
It was pretty good, with scouts clocking his fastball at 91-93 miles per hour and his slider at 79-82. He looked like a different pitcher than he was in 2012, when he arrived in Yankees camp with a bum shoulder, overweight and unable to consistently reach even 90 mph on his fastball.
Because of all that, the Yankees have been waiting for Pineda to look like some semblance of the 2011 All-Star whom they traded Jesus Montero for in January 2012. On Friday night, he received four-star reviews.
"He looked very good and healthy," a scout said.
Pineda was pleased, describing his command as "perfect" and summing the night up as "great."
"I showed Michael Pineda," Pineda said.
In the fifth, Pineda impressed immediately. He struck out Austin Jackson on three pitches, finishing him off with a curve.
After a Stephen Lombardozzi single to left, Pineda induced a double-play ball from Nick Castellanos. The Yankees got the lead runner when Derek Jeter tossed to Brian Roberts, but Roberts could not successfully complete the throw to first. Unfazed, Pineda struck out Danny Worth, again using a curve to end the at-bat.
"If [he] is healthy, he is an uncomfortable at-bat," catcher Brian McCann said.
Pineda is competing for the No. 5 spot in the rotation with David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno. He is the guy the Yankees want to win the job. He only helped his case on Friday.
Notes: Masahiro Tanaka will throw a simulated game on Tuesday and will next start in Tampa against the Braves on Sunday, March 15 Brendan Ryan will sit out until the middle of the week, with what manager Joe Girardi indicated was a strained oblique Carlos Beltran hit a two-run home run off Anibal Sanchez that still might be flying through the sky Jeter had two more hits. In the first inning, Jeter picked up an infield single on a slow roller to third base and then hit a grounder up the middle in the third inning Hiroki Kuroda threw 2⅔ innings of scoreless ball. He gave up one hit, a double to Cabrera, and struck out five Joba Chamberlain pitched a rocky, scoreless inning. After two outs, Chamberlain gave up a single, threw a wild pitch and walked a batter, but then struck out Francisco Arcia The Yankees won 3-2 when Luis Marte balked in the winning run in the ninth.
Starting third baseman Kelly Johnson is currently the backup first baseman. Johnson is also the backup second baseman.
Soriano, who will play in the outfield Friday night, will primarily be a designated hitter. However, he could spell Mark Teixeira from time to time during the season. The Yankees do not plan to carry strictly a backup first baseman.
Johnson is scheduled to play first base Sunday. Girardi doesn't know when Soriano might play the position in an exhibition game.
By the way, Girardi also said the Yankees never considered using Soriano at second base. Soriano started his Yankees career as a second baseman.
Panama: CC Sabathia and Adam Warren will start in Panama next weekend. Derek Jeter, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner and Soriano will also make the trip.
Changeup: David Robertson incorporated the changeup a little bit last season, but Girardi said that Robertson might throw it a bit more this season.
Moment of silence: The Yankees held a moment of silence to honor Carmen Berra before Friday night's exhibition game.
On the mound, Joba Chamberlain is making the trip for the Tigers, while Michael Pineda will take the hill for the first time this spring. Joe Girardi's hope is that Pineda can throw three innings.
Here are the lineups on a cool (for Tampa) night at Steinbrenner Field:
New York Yankees
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Carlos Beltran, DH
Brian McCann, C
Alfonso Soriano, RF
Brian Roberts, 2B
Ichiro Suzuki, LF
Eduardo Nunez, 3B
Russ Canzler, 1B
Hiroki Kuroda, P
Rajai Davis, LF
Torii Hunter, RF
Victor Martinez, DH
Alex Avila, C
Austin Jackson, CF
Stephen Lombardozzi, 2B
Nick Castellanos, 3B
Danny Worth, SS
Anibal Sanchez, P
MANBAN DEBUT: In Kissimee on Saturday, Manuel Banuelos will pitch his first game since ...
"May 20, 2012," Banuelos said, the date etched in his mind.
Banuelos, who turns 23 on March 13, will pitch one inning against the Houston Astros.
Banuelos, coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery, said he is a little nervous about the outing, but in a good way. He is especially excited to find out how hard he is throwing. He has not had a radar gun on his fastball yet. He said it feels like the 90s, but he wants to know for sure.
“On behalf of the entire New York Yankees organization, we offer our deepest condolences to the Berra family," said Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner in a statement. “Having known Yogi and Carmen for so long, it is almost impossible to imagine two people who complemented each other better than they did. We will always remember Carmen’s smile and sense of humor, and her kindness and generosity will be dearly missed.”
Yogi, 88, and Carmen had three sons, 11 grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Her death was the result of complications from a stroke, according to the New York Daily News.
Funeral services will be private.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center at 8 Yogi Berra Drive, Little Falls, N.J. 07424.
Donations also may be made at yogiberramuseum.org.
Final 7 Syracuse 74 Florida State 58 Final Quinnipiac 68 Manhattan 87 Final Canisius 72 Iona 75 Final Hartford 64 Stony Brook 69
Final Philadelphia 110 New York 123 Final Toronto 97 Brooklyn 101
7:00 PM ET Butler Seton Hall 7:00 PM ET South Florida Rutgers 7:00 PM ET Fordham George Mason