HOUSTON - During the worst stretch of his career, CC Sabathia has been in consistent contact with former teammate Andy Pettitte, who keeps pushing the same message.
"That I'm not that far off has been the biggest thing," Sabathia said Thursday before the Yankees started a four-game series against the AL West-leading Astros.
Pettitte, 43, was in uniform in the clubhouse before Thursday night's game, still looking in condition to throw six strong innings. He said the most important thing Sabathia (3-7, 5.65) needs to do is maintain his confidence.
"He's been a great pitcher for so, so long, he just needs to go out there and take it one pitch at a time and continue to work," said Pettitte, who later threw batting practice to the first Yankees hitting group of the day. "I tried to work my way through it. I would tell him the same thing. I think it will change. This game is so much about confidence, I believe, and I think he'll put together a few good starts and hopefully get on a good roll."
Pettitte reflected back to his 1999 season, a nightmare year in which things got so bad during a 31/3-inning start on July 28 against the White Sox in Chicago -- an 11-3 loss that dropped him to 7-8 with a 5.65 ERA -- that he inexplicably dropped down and attempted to throw an 0-and-2 sidearm slider to the lefty-hitting Chris Singleton, who whacked it to right for an RBI single that knocked out Pettitte.
"That was the ultimate low I hit," said Pettitte, who was very much on the trading block before the trade deadline that 1999 season. "I was searching so hard and I was trying to make stuff up out there. That's a tough spot to be in."
Sabathia is aware of Pettitte's low point, even saying, "It's been hard for me not to just scrap everything and start throwing sidearm."
But there are some key differences in the pitchers' respective struggles, the primary one being that Pettitte turned 27 in June 1999. Sabathia, who said he talks or texts with Pettitte a couple of times a week, will turn 35 next month and is having difficulty making the adjustment from a pitcher who used to throw in the mid-to- high-90s to one whose fastball mostly sits in the range of 89 to 91 mph. And Sabathia has had that difficulty for more than just this season. He's 20-24 with a 5.07 ERA in the last three seasons.
Pettitte still believes Sabathia has enough left in the tank to be effective.
"I think we've all been there if you've played long enough," Pettitte said. "It's just when you're in those ruts, it seems like you're never going to get out of it. It's really important to stay positive in this time and just try to keep your confidence. I know it's hard to do, but just try to keep your confidence."
Sabathia said he draws confidence from the fact that he believes his changeup and backdoor cutter have been "pretty good" along with his two-seamer "at times.''
"I think there's some stuff to build on," Sabathia said. "If this was last year, I'd be lying if I sat here and told you my stuff was good and I feel like I can get guys out. This year, my stuff is good enough to get guys out. I just need to start doing it."