On Friday, for the second time this season, CC Sabathia will come off the disabled list to take the mound for the New York Yankees. Is it a sign that his workload is starting to take its toll?
Prior to this season, the Yankees ace had gone five consecutive seasons of 33 or more starts and 230 or more innings pitched. Until 2012, Sabathia had pitched less than 30 starts only once in his entire career (2006). To say he has been a dependable workhorse would be the understatement of the century.
There have been few pitchers over the past decade with the durability that Sabathia has shown.
In 2008, after being traded in July from the Cleveland Indians to the Milwaukee Brewers, it seemed that CC single-handedly carried the Brew Crew into the playoffs. In 17 starts, he went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and pitched 130.2 innings—an average of nearly eight innings per start (7.66).
With the Bronx Bombers, there has been little letup in innings pitched, as he has averaged seven innings an outing over nearly four seasons in pinstripes. He has been the one pitcher the Yankees have been able to count on every fifth day.
When he headed to the disabled list on Aug. 11, Sabathia was averaging over seven innings pitched per start. After a game against the Detroit Tigers in which he threw only 94 pitches, he felt discomfort in his elbow. As a precaution, the Yankees (much to Sabathia's chagrin) put their star hurler on the shelf.
Between June 28 and July 16, CC had missed three starts with a strained groin. It was his first stay on the disabled list in six years (he had two trips to the DL with Cleveland).
After 12 big league seasons, and at 32 years of age, are the seasons of 200-plus innings pitched and 30-plus starts finally winning the battle with Sabathia's body? Will the years of being able to depend on getting seven or more innings each start out of the veteran pitcher be a thing of the past?
The Yankees certainly hope not.
Over the past three seasons, there are only three pitchers that have averaged more innings on the mound than Sabathia: Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay. Of those three, only Halladay is older. Ironically, Halladay went on the DL this season for the first time since 2004.
CC Sabathia plays a large part in the New York Yankees' run to a title. It is more than just coincidence that in his first full season with the team (2009), they won the World Series.
That year, he pitched 230 innings and went 19-8 in 34 starts. He is the anchor that the team had been searching for—its legitimate "ace."
They must now worry that perhaps they have overplayed that "card."