(Always good to see the big fella on the mound. Courtesy of the AP)
After what the team called a "scheduling error," CC Sabathia threw his first bullpen session of the spring on Saturday, really testing out his left elbow for the first time since offseason surgery to remove bone chips. Sabathia said he felt good after the 29-pitch session, which was all fastballs and changeups, and commented on his desire to stay healthy for the full season this year, something that becomes a new goal for all players as they journey into their mid-30s. Joe was also happy with CC's performance and gave a little bit of insight into what might be a more cautious team approach with CC this season when he announced that CC will be skipped the first time through the spring rotation. This might come as a surprise and cause for concern for some, but if this is handled correctly it could be the perfect way to keep CC fresh.
A while back, when the Yankees first started discussing the idea of limiting CC's workload in 2013, I wrote a post in support of the idea as long as it was handled properly. My definition of properly for a veteran ace like CC didn't involve any skipped starts, pitch count limits, or watered-down 4-5-inning outings, just a sense of how hard CC had worked through his first 6-7 innings and a willingness to shut him down after those 7 innings and 100+ pitches in early season starts. There's no need to overwork a guy early in the season if you don't have to, and less of a need to do so if your admitted goal is to reduce his workload.
This slowed-down ST pace for CC, even if it is truly to give him more time to get into game shape and give the coaching staff more time to evaluate his recovery from the elbow surgery, could be the perfect lead-in to that reduced workload. CC was already coming into camp a week or two behind the rest of the starting rotation candidates because of the surgery, and the indication of Joe's comments is that the team is in no hurry to rush his schedule to catch him back up. If CC is not going to pitch in a spring game until March, it's very likely he won't be completely stretched out by the time the regular season starts. Late start in spring should translate to a later start in April, especially when it involves a player coming back from injury.
Assuming CC isn't going to get his usual complement of spring outings and innings in, he likely won't have the ability to step out there on Opening Day and throw 8+ innings. Maybe it's only 7, or maybe it's only 6. It will depend on how much he gets to throw in ST and how much Joe and Larry Rothschild decide they want to rein him in early. The month of April could almost serve as an extended Spring Training for CC, which would help keep his pitch and innings count down early and reduce his overall workload at season's end. Rather than shut him down late in the year when the games mean more, the Yankees can use next month and the first part of the regular season as a slow ramp up period for CC and hopefully as a result keep him fresher for the big starts at the end of the year. That's the right way to handle a situation like this, and it appears as though that's the approach the Yankees are going to take.
CC said he wasn't a fan of the reduced workload idea when the team first brought it up last November, and if you asked him today he would say the same thing. But being the same guy who said his number one goal this year is to stay healthy and make all his starts, CC probably sees the value in a decelerated ST schedule and a lighter load in the early part of the regular season. One would have to assume the Yankees do as well after what they've experienced with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. They've already got a lot of money tied up in aging players, and they may tie even more up for a player who will eventually succumb to age in Robinson Cano. CC's the last link to that core group of big-money guys and it's critically important for the Yankees to keep him healthy. This reduced ST workload is a great way to ensure he's completely healthy to start the season and a great start to managing his workload to ensure he stays healthy for the entire season.