Sabathia has had big problems with the knee since 2014, when doctors discovered a degenerative condition in it. He had major surgery on it that July and was limited to just eight starts. It sapped him of his once-blazing fastball, and it’s taken him years to learn how to pitch without it.
The recovery hasn’t been easy. Sabathia went through different braces on the knee, which bears all of his weight when he lands in his delivery, until settling on a big, bulky one in late 2015. He hasn’t had significant problems with the knee since then, though he’s periodically had it drained of fluid buildup.
At age 37, Sabathia just won’t heal like he used to. Before he spoke to reporters Tuesday, he was sitting on the steps that lead out of the clubhouse. It was an unusual location. Sabathia typically talks in front of his locker. He knew reporters were going to want to talk to him immediately.
When he spoke, his eyes were watery. They looked tired. He was upset. “I’m just in pain,” he said. Sabathia added that he didn’t know if a disabled list stint was in his future.
“It’s just hard to land,” he said. ‘It’s hard for me to finish my pitches. It’s just hard for me to get over my front side and finish my pitches. When I can’t do that, I don’t know where the ball’s going.”
Dan Hamilton | USA Today Sports
What we know is next
Sabathia will head to New York to see doctors Wednesday. It was actually unclear when Sabathia will see a doctor. But he won’t be with the team Wednesday.
For Sabathia to talk about feeling real, physical pain, and for him to say he doesn’t know what’s next — it signaled a lot. Manager Joe Girardi used the word “concerned.” That might be putting it lightly, at least for Sabathia, who’s set to be a free agent at season’s end and badly want to return next season to pitch for the Yankees.
Julie Jacobson | AP
What could happen next
It’s possible Sabathia wakes up Wednesday morning feeling like a million bucks and makes his next scheduled start, which would be against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. Hunch: That’s unlikely, going off Sabathia’s reaction and the Yankees’ decision to immediately see doctors in New York.
So, who takes Sabatha’s next start? The Yankees planned to start rookie lefty Jordan Montgomery at Triple-A on Saturday. They just sent him to the minors. The team plans to limit his workload so they don’t overuse him and harm him beyond 2017. Maybe they move to Montgomery for a start, though, just until Sabathia comes back.
Doubtful that they will, though. They have a plan for Montgomery. They told him what’s next. They don’t want to mess with his health or his head. Bryan Mitchell, who pitched four shutout innings in relief of Sabathia, would also be in line to make the Saturday start.
Caleb Smith threw Tuesday night, too. He’s on the 40-man and would be on turn. He’s the leading non-Mitchell candidate if Sabathia can’t go on Saturday. Luis Cessa would be another name to consider.
Dan Hamilton | USA Today Sports
What’s really scary
What if this is it for Sabathia? Maybe it’s waaaay too soon to ask that question. Sabathia is more than tough. Who knows what kind of pain he can push himself to pitch through. But Tuesday’s pain was bad enough to where he had to stop pitching. It was in the knee that’s been a problem for years.
He’s 37. He’s about to be a free agent. He’s pitched 17 big-league seasons. He’s got an AL Cy Young. He’s got a Hall of Fame argument. By season’s end, he’ll have made $242.4 million playing baseball, according to Baseball Reference. You hope he’s fine. You don’t wish injury on anybody. But who knows.