BOSTON - During a routine media session Saturday, a reporter intended to ask CC Sabathia if he likes pitching at Fenway Park. Sabathia didn't hear the end of the question and thought he was being asked if he "likes pitching.''
Without missing a beat, the Yankees' struggling ace said, "I love pitching.'' He later added, "Most days.''
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Will Sunday night be one of them?
Sabathia will take a 10-10 record and 4.66 ERA into his outing against the Red Sox after going 74-29 with a 3.22 ERA in his first four seasons with the Yankees. He snapped a personal four-game losing streak in his last start, and that wasn't a gem: six innings, three hits, three runs (two earned), six walks, seven strikeouts in a 14-7 victory over the Angels on Tuesday.
His walks are up and his strikeouts are down from 2012, when he went 15-6, 3.38 in 28 starts. He has allowed a career-worst 26 home runs. For the first time in his career, he is allowing more hits than innings pitched.
After offseason elbow surgery, Sabathia's average fastball velocity is 90.9 miles per hour, down from 92.3 last season and 93.3 in his 13-year career.
Sabathia is 33 and has thrown 2,8372/3 innings in the regular season and postseason in his 13-year career. Those two facts probably are the most obvious answers to why he's in decline.
"I get the ball and pitch,'' he said. "When I'm out there and I'm playing, I don't think about what people are thinking about me. I'm thinking about trying to make a good pitch, trying to help the team win. I've got to go out there every time out and try to change people's opinions about me. Hopefully I can do that.''
Sabathia is making $23 million this season and will make $71 million for the next three seasons. He has a vesting option for 2017 of $25 million (or a $5-million buyout).
Simply put, the Yankees have a lot invested in the big lefty, financially and emotionally.
"Look, the guy's a workhorse, man,'' Andy Pettitte said. "He continues to log innings for us. [Hiroki] Kuroda's been our most consistent starter this season. That's plain and simple. But I think everybody still looks at 'C' as the ace of the staff.''
Sabathia looks at himself that way, too. He has been extremely hard on himself for not pitching well and also is confident that he can turn it around.
"C's tough on himself,'' Pettitte said. "I kind of feel like I may have rubbed off a little bit on him over the years that we've been together. I feel like it helps me, it kind of motivates me.
"You just want to win. Whenever you pitch, you want to win. And if the team loses, it's hard to swallow, especially when you're used to winning. I know CC has done an awful, awful lot of winning here. He's not used to losing. He wants to be great and he's used to being great.''
So how is he going to be great again? Sabathia was adamant Saturday that a mechanical flaw has been holding him back.
"Arm angle,'' he said. "It's just always been all about the arm angle the past couple of weeks for me. The past couple times, it's been better.''
Asked to elaborate, Sabathia said: "It's just being conscious and making sure that I'm getting it up and getting my hand in the right spot. You can see it. The ball's not cutting. Just throwing a true four-seamer on both sides of the plate. I've been able to do that the last couple times. My two-seamer's been a lot better and it's definitely because of the arm angle.''
Manager Joe Girardi said he "feels better'' about Sabathia going into Sunday night.
"I do,'' he said. "I think his sinker and his changeup have been better, and those are two huge pitches for him.''
Said Sabathia: "Hopefully I've still got a lot more left.''