(Courtesy of the AP)
(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)
In a scene that has become way too common for comfort this season, CC Sabathia failed to protect the lead the offense gave him on Saturday. In a span of 4 batters and 16 pitches to start the bottom of the 6th, Sabathia gave up 3 runs on 3 hits and a walk, turning a 2-0 Yankee lead into a 3-2 deficit from which they would not come back. Sabathia had allowed just 2 baserunners in the 5 previous innings, and his pitch count wasn't very high, but the decision to allow him to continue in that inning was questionable at best. He left a sinker up on the leadoff hit and the walk to the next batter was on 4 pitches, all either 4-seam fastballs or sinkers that missed. It was clear CC had lost his command, and with the go-ahead run stepping to the plate and the Yankees needing every win they can get it was probably the time to pull him.
Rather than go get him, Joe did what he's always done with CC. He trusted the big guy to get out of the jam and that confidence was not rewarded. CC went 3-1 to the next batter, the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist who was batting from his weaker side of the plate, before grooving another sinker that Zobrist hit for a 2-run double to tie the game. With the dangerous and right-handed hitting Evan Longoria coming up, Joe had another opportunity to remove a crumbling CC from the game and again he elected not to and let him pitch to Longoria. Longoria lined a single to left field, Zobrist scored, Yankees lose.
As recently as last year, nobody would have questioned Joe staying with his ace in a situation like that. 2 baserunners is hardly a major concern when the guy has pitched 5 shutout innings leading up to that point and was barely over 80 pitches. But we all know that this year's version of CC Sabathia is nowhere near the CC Sabathia we saw last year or in any of his other previous seasons. Surely Joe knows this too 27 starts into the season, and yet he continues to give CC the longest leash out of all his starters. Not only did Joe not come get CC after he coughed up the lead, he let him finish the inning and start the 7th. No more runs scored in those innings, but what about CC's performance in those first 4 batters of the 6th, the last 3 months, and this entire season warranted him being allowed to continue in that game?
Joe's a loyal guy when it comes to his players. Look at what he did and said for Heel A-Rod after the Dempster incident. CC has been Joe's go-to starter since the minute he pitched his first game as a Yankee, and he's pitched a lot of important games and gotten a lot of big outs for Joe in the last 4 years. That was a different pitcher though, a better pitcher. This year's CC hasn't been worthy of that kind of loyalty or trust for months, and sooner or later Joe needs to accept that and alter the way he manages CC's starts. It's obvious he recognizes CC isn't what he was. He sent Rothschild out for a talk with CC after the walk in the 6th, something you never used to see. When CC followed that visit up with the game-tying hit, that should have been the time to yank him. Joe didn't and it cost him.
Of course there was no way for Joe to know at the time that his offense wouldn't score any more runs, and of course the reliever he brought in could have given up hits to blow the lead as well. That's a chance Joe has to start taking now. CC doesn't have what it takes to hold those leads and no longer deserves the long leash Joe gives him. Joe needs to start looking at CC the same way he does Phil Hughes when he's struggling in these middle-to-late innings. If he starts missing and guys start getting on, it's time to get the bullpen up. When the pitching coach visits the mound, it can't be to just ask CC how he's feeling. It needs to be to tell him that he's only got this next batter, and if he doesn't get that batter out like he didn't on Saturday, Joe needs to come get him.
It's not about honoring past performance. It's not about respecting a guy's career accomplishments or his salary. It's not about preserving ego or making sure a "workhorse" reputation is maintained by reaching 100 pitches (something the gang over at NoMaas has been commenting on for a while now). It's about winning baseball games. That's all that matters right now and Joe has done an excellent job managing to win this season and getting the most out of what he's had. One thing he needs to tighten up is his grip on CC's leash when the big fella takes the mound. Sabathia is no longer the pitcher he used to be, and until he finds his command and learns to pitch at a lighter weight and lower velocity he's no longer worthy of being managed like the pitcher he used to be.