TAMPA, Fla. — Even after CC Sabathia had what Joe Girardi called his “best” outing of spring training Tuesday, the Yankees are going to great pains to say he still hasn’t clinched the fifth starter’s job.
Girardi said as much after the Yankees’ 5-4, rain-shortened victory over the Pirates at Steinbrenner Field, and general manager Brian Cashman later said, “No final decision’s been made.”
The 35-year-old lefthander allowed two runs and three hits in four innings to finish with a 5.84 ERA. Sabathia, asked point-blank afterward if he assumed he was in the rotation, said, “Yes.” But not because of any conversations he’s had about his status with Girardi or pitching coach Larry Roths child. He said those conversations have been “just with you guys,” meaning the media.
Sabathia barely has acknowledged being in a competition with Ivan Nova, who has a 5.50 ERA and starts Wednesday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista. Sabathia is concentrating instead on how he feels physically, which he consistently said has been “good.”
He said the uncertainty expressed by the Yankees has not annoyed him. “No, it is what it is,” he said. “We’ll see what they come up with.”
The prospect of sending Sabathia to the bullpen to start the season always has seemed a stretch. That’s because Sabathia, due $25 million this year with a vesting option for next season, never has made a regular-season relief appearance in his career, in which he’s 214-129 with a 3.69 ERA.
But Cashman stressed that the 29-year-old Nova, who can be a free agent after the season, also hasn’t had much experience in relief (seven appearances, none since 2013).
The bottom line?
“Whoever’s not the fifth starter,” Cashman said, “is going to be in a role he’s not used to.”
Sabathia struck out two, walked two and hit a batter Tuesday, when the mound consisted of more mud than dirt because of a soaking rain that fell for most of his outing. His fastball sat in the 87-88-mph range and he said he was most pleased with his cutter and, later on, his changeup.
“He’s shown fifth-starter stuff,” an opposing team’s talent evaluator said. “He’s got enough — cutter, curveball, change — to get through a lineup twice. I wouldn’t tempt it much beyond that.”
Sabathia said that without question he feels ready for the season, largely because of a pain-free offseason for the right knee that caused him so much trouble the past three years.
“Top to bottom, I feel good,” Sabathia said. “Pitches are working, I’m confident in what I’m throwing and what I’m trying to do to get hitters out. So this is good. I feel good, ready and prepared to go into the season.”
The safe bet remains his role to start the season will be in the rotation, even though Girardi isn’t prepared to say so. He did acknowledge it would be “difficult” having to tell a pitcher with Sabathia’s resume he didn’t make the rotation cut.
“I think it’s going to be difficult for either one,” said Girardi, who said he’s hopeful a decision will be made by Thursday. “CC’s done a lot of good things in this game for a long time. Whatever decision we make . . . This is the hardest part of the year for me sometimes, these decisions that we have to make. You know somebody’s going to be disappointed.”