MILWAUKEE - Late Saturday afternoon, Joe Girardi repeated what has become almost as common in discussions about CC Sabathia as the lefthander's diminished fastball velocity.
"It's just been a few innings here and there," Girardi said. "He needs to figure out a way to stop those innings, and when he does, he'll get on a roll."
That roll did not start Saturday night. Sabathia, hurt by a two-out error by Brendan Ryan in the third, again was victimized by that "one bad inning" in the Yankees' 5-4 loss to the Brewers in front of a sellout crowd of 43,085 at Miller Park.
"You have to pick your guys up," said Sabathia, who after his no-decision refused to lay blame at the feet of Ryan, making his first start of the season at short as Derek Jeter had the night off.
Girardi said much the same. "It's frustrating,'' he said, "but sometimes you have to pick up your fielders, too."
Sabathia, who was taken off the hook by Mark Teixeira's home run in the sixth and Alfonso Soriano's RBI single in the seventh, allowed four runs, three unearned, in 51/3 innings. He gave up eight hits, most of them rockets, including three long home runs. He has allowed a team-worst 10 homers in 46 innings.
Rickie Weeks' two-out RBI single off losing pitcher Alfredo Aceves in the seventh broke a 4-4 tie, but the critical inning was the third.
With the Yankees holding a 2-1 lead on Brett Gardner's RBI triple and Carlos Beltran's RBI single in the top of the inning, Sabathia retired the first two batters before Ryan flat-out booted Jean Segura's routine grounder, which struck the palm of his glove and came out. Jonathan Lucroy, behind 0-and-2, and Aramis Ramirez followed with homers on consecutive pitches to give the Brewers a 4-2 lead.
"It rips your heart out because CC was starting to cruise there for a minute," Ryan said. "You really want to get out of that inning for him, and the next thing you know, it cost you three runs. It feels pretty awful."
Sabathia, disappointed as he was in the result, said he won't repeat the mental punishment he gave himself during last season's nightmare, his first year of adjusting from a power pitcher to a finesse one. While the numbers say the adjustment still is very much a work in progress, he sees improvement.
"I'm not going to sit here and kill myself and be negative. I'm just not doing that this year," Sabathia said. "It's not going to happen overnight . . . I felt like I did a better job keeping the game close, I guess. So we'll keep battling and go from here and try and get better."
After Teixeira's sixth homer brought the Yankees within 4-3 in the sixth, Sabathia got in a jam in the bottom of the inning. With the bases loaded and one out, Dellin Betances replaced him and struck out Scooter Gennett and Carlos Gomez on seven pitches to escape.
Betances continues to climb the ladder in the bullpen, lowering his ERA to 2.00. The 6-8 righty has struck out 32 and walked nine in 18 innings, with 16 of his last 22 recorded outs coming via strikeout.
"I just feel like [Girardi is] trusting me more and more each time, and that helps me," Betances said. "I feel confident every time I go out there."
That move worked, as did Girardi's parade of pinch hitters in the seventh, with all three delivering to tie the score. Kelly Johnson walked and Ichiro Suzuki and Soriano delivered singles, with Soriano's cue shot to the right side beating the shift and making it 4-4.
But the Brewers went ahead in the bottom of the inning, with Lucroy scoring after a double to right that got over the head of Beltran, who didn't seem to get a good read on the ball.
Afterward, though, the talk was about an ace who hasn't consistently pitched like one in well over a year.
"For C, it's just staying out of that inning," Girardi said. "That's what we have to correct. If something goes awry, we have to be able to get out of the inning."