Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia gets loose during a spring training workout in Tampa on Feb. 14, 2017
By Randy Miller
Before heading outdoors on reporting day for pitchers and catchers, Sabathia sounded like he was drinking Yankees Kool-Aid the way he was talking up teammates.
The 2017 Yankees aren’t being picked to do much this year because several young and inexperienced ones will be playing key roles, but Sabathia remembers last season’s playoff push after the club’s summer fire sale and foresees something special brewing.
Here are 10 takeaways from Sabathia’s first interview of the spring:
1. Sabathia thinks people who believe the Yankees’ rotation is their Achilles will be proven wrong. He thinks the Yankees can have a strong top three in Masahiro Tanaka, himself and Michael Pineda, and he thinks the two open spots will be in good hands with five capable top candidates: Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Chad Green and Adam Warren. “I think the staff will be good,” Sabathia said. “Look at the arms that will be battling for that last spot. There’s some great talent. Mitchell came up and pitched great for us last year. Sevy I think will bounce back. Chad Green … There are some guys down there that can really make an impact on the rotation. I feel good about what they can do.”
2. Sabathia has a hunch the Yankees will get a great season from Pineda, who can become a free agent after the 2017 campaign. The righty impressively struck out 207 over 175 2/3 innings last season, but struggled to a 6-12 record with a 4.82 ERA in 32 starts. “I always feel that big Mike is … I always says going into spring training this is the year he’s going to win the Cy Young. He’s just got so much talent and he just needs to put it all together. I think that (his contract situation) could motivate him. He works really hard and he’s always asking questions and he just wants to be that great pitcher, so I think it’ll all come together for him. Hopefully this year.”
3. Sabathia says he’s “recovered pretty quickly” from last October’s right knee surgery that was described as a routine cleanup. “I feel good and feel like I’ll be ready to go,” he said.
4. Sabathia gave the Yankees 30 starts and 179 2/3 innings last season, and he says he’d “sign up for that” again this year right now.
5. Sabathia will turn 37 in July and he’s in the final season of a five-year, $122-million contract, but he says 2017 won’t be it for him as a pitcher. “Last year to play? No,” he said. “If I’m healthy and able-bodied to play, I’m going to play as long as I can. It just depends on me being healthy.”
6. Sabathia is intrigued about seeing the younger prospects who are in big-league camp, especially a fellow left-hander who was a big part of the Yankees’ return last July when All-Star reliever Andrew Miller was traded to Cleveland. “I really want to see Justus (Sheffield),” Sabathia said. “I’ve heard a lot about him. Lefty … I’m excited to get a chance to see him throw.”
7. Sabathia is fine with most people picking Boston to win the AL East and the Yankees to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. “It’s a tough position to be in as far as (the Red Sox) because of the expectations,” he said. “For us, we can just kind of fly under the radar and kind of do our thing and hopefully make a run at it. It’ll be a little more comfortable for us because nobody’s expecting anything out of us.”
8. It’s well-documented that Sabathia’s improved cutter played a big role in his successful reinvention last season from power to finesse pitcher, but he also become more studious in regards to learning opposing hitters’ trends. “I watched video (earlier in my career),” he said, “but not really with the intent that I have now of trying to figure out what to do to guys and try to figure out how to navigate a lineup.”
9. Sabathia likes the direction the organization veered toward last summer and can’t wait to see what the Yankees can accomplish this season. “It’s exciting for sure,” he said. “We’ve got some good young talent in here. It wouldn’t be that exciting if the guys weren’t good players, but the guys are good players. So it’s a lot of fun to see what these guys are going to be able to do for us this year.”
10. Everyone knows the backend of the Yankees’ bullpen should be a big strength again with Dellin Betances setting up closer Aroldis Chapman, but Sabathia also likes the other relievers and feels they also can be a big weapon. “We’ve got (Tyler) Clippard back. We’ve got Adam Warren (if he’s not starting). We’ve got (Luis) Severino if he doesn’t make the rotation. He was great in the bullpen. We’ve got guys that can bridge the gap and kind of make the game shorter and help our team win games.”