CC Sabathia May Have Turned Corner by Shutting Down Red Sox, Outlasting Jon Lester

CC SabathiaFor this weekend’s Red Sox-Yankees series, NESN.com and YESNetwork.com are engaging in a unique editorial swap. This postgame piece is provided by YES’s Joe Auriemma. Go to YESNetwork.com to read a recap from NESN’s Ricky Doyle.

CC Sabathia may finally have turned a corner. The Yankees hefty lefty ace has struggled to start the season and he had not shown any signs of any improvement; that was until the series opener against the Red Sox.

Sabathia had one of his worst performances of his five-year Yankees career on Sunday in Tampa, allowing seven runs in seven innings, but it was more than just the last outing. Over his last three starts, he had allowed 29 hits in just 19 2/3 innings, dropping him to .500 for the season, while his ERA ballooned to 3.96.

If ever there was a time that the Yankees needed their stopper and ace to come through, it was Friday night. After the Yankees were swept by the crosstown Mets in 2013′s version of the Subway Series — making them losers of five straight — the team needed to change its fate and keep up with the Red Sox in the AL East standings.

From the start, Sabathia was in control. Even though he threw 22 pitches in the first inning, he looked like he was locating a lot better than he had been of late. His fastball looked crisp, his slider was a difference-making pitch and his changeup kept the Red Sox off balance.

Velocity was not an issue on Friday night. The fastball that had been clocked between 89 and 91 in his first 11 starts was now flashing between 92 and 94 mph all night, and he seemed to get stronger as the night wore on.

“I felt a little better, but I couldn’t really tell,” Sabathia said of his fastball. “I could see that I got a few swings and misses on my fastball. A couple of guys were late.”

The offense aided the ace with much-needed early run support off Jon Lester, and the two runs in the second were all that Sabathia needed as he cruised through 7 1/3 innings. Sabathia also recorded 10 strikeouts for the 36th time in his career.

“Great location on his fastball, slider and changeup were very good, and he didn’t walk anyone,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after the game. “He stayed ahead of his hitters for the most part. He was really good. It’s kind of what we’re used to seeing from CC and he gave it to us.”

On six of those 10 strikeouts, CC used the slider as his out pitch. It was an effective tool for him as he painted the corners with terrific control. Location, location, location was pivotal, and his control issues seemed a thing of the past.

“Whether he was using it against the lefties away from him or the use as a backdoor on the right handers. It was really good tonight,” Girardi said of his slider.

Sabathia is a notoriously slow starter over the first two months in his Yankees career. Since joining the team in 2009, he is averaging a 5-3 record in April and May. With the Yankees’ 4-1 victory, he improved his mark to 5-4 on the season, and seems to be right on track to where he normally is at this point. One thing that has been noted is that he doesn’t seem to be himself until the weather warms up. The weather seems to be a factor for the big man, who just feels a lot looser with the summer change.

“It’s probably just the warm weather,” catcher Chris Stewart said. “He feels loose, like he can just let it go and other than that it was more location than velocity at this standpoint.”

“This is about where he is usually this time of year,” Girardi added. “I understand why some people have a cause for concern, but he’s a guy a lot of times when it warms up he goes on a roll. Today was really the hottest he’s had to pitch in and he had his best stuff.”

The return of Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis certainly was a key for the Yankees as they tried to snap their recent skid, but the substance needed to come from Sabathia, who was going to have to try to match the ace on the other side. Sabathia did just that and more, while Lester struggled with his control.

As the team continues to heal up and get players back, the resurgence of Sabathia as a frontline starter can only be a positive as the Yankees try and keep pace with Farrell’s impressive Red Sox.

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