Joe Girardi, Larry Rothschild believe CC Sabathia still has it

CC Sabathia delivers a pitch to a Baltimore

CC Sabathia delivers a pitch to a Baltimore Orioles batter during the first inning of a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. (Sept. 8, 2012) (Credit: Getty)

BOSTON -- Joe Girardi said he has no doubt that if CC Sabathia's velocity stays a notch below what it's typically been in his career, the lefthander still can pitch effectively.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild took a more measured approach. "There's no way to say it's an issue or non-issue until you see him [pitch again]," he said before Thursday night's game.

Rothschild's point: For all the talk of Sabathia's diminished velocity, it was noticeable in only one start, his most recent one last Saturday in Baltimore.

Sabathia (13-5, 3.56 ERA) kicks off a huge series against the suddenly desperate Rays Friday night at the Stadium, opposed by Tampa Bay lefty David Price (17-5, 2.54), who is among the leading AL Cy Young Award candidates but missed his last start with shoulder soreness.

Sabathia has won one such award and been a candidate several other times in his career, but not this year. "To me, the thing that he's lacked the most consistency in is the sinker and his outstanding changeup," Girardi said. "And he's still pitching at a pretty high level, but just not to what we're used to seeing from him. But if those things are consistent, he doesn't have to throw 97, 98."

Rothschild, like Girardi, theorized that the number of innings Sabathia has thrown -- at least 230 each of the previous five years -- could be a factor. But he said Sabathia looks the same "delivery-wise" and offered another theory. "I think it's been interrupted with the [two] DL stints," he said. "He's been a guy that would start slow and thrive on the work every fifth day, and he hasn't been able to do that, really."

Rothschild said he hasn't seen anything to indicate that Sabathia, who already had departed for home when the media entered the clubhouse Thursday, is hurting. "He came out early today and threw some and said he feels great," he said. "He hasn't backed down from any activities or anything and has stayed in his routine. I think this year is different because he has missed starts this year. As long as he's healthy, I think he can get on a run and really help us the way he has throughout."

Friday night kicks off a nine-game homestand for the Yankees, with three games against the Rays and three against the wild card-leading A's sandwiched around three against the Blue Jays. "Extremely important series for us," Girardi said. "And it could have a lot of meaning in the playoff picture."

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