TAMPA, Fla. — Andy Pettitte arrived in Yankees camp Tuesday and was “fired up” upon hearing who would be starting in the afternoon.
“When I got here and they told me he was pitching, I was like, man, what timing,” Pettitte said of being at Steinbrenner Field for CC Sabathia’s spring training debut. “To be able to get here and see my boy pitch the first day, I’m excited about that.”
Sabathia and Pettitte became close friends during their time together with the Yankees and have remained close since Pettitte retired for good after the 2013 season.
It was in spring training 2014 when Pettitte worked with Sabathia on developing a cutter, a pitch Sabathia says has gradually improved and helped his ongoing transition from power pitcher to finesse pitcher.
“Obviously, my style of pitching now is close to what his was at the end of his career, so we have a lot to talk about,” Sabathia said after throwing two scoreless innings, with two strikeouts, in the Yankees’ 7-6, 10-inning win over the Rays. “It’s a lot of fun to bounce stuff off a Hall of Famer. To have a really close relationship where I can call him any time of the night and he’ll answer and talk me through my problems.”
Pettitte, 44, isn’t eligible yet for the Hall of Fame, and his candidacy is sure to be thoroughly debated. Some will focus on his 256-153 record and the most postseason victories ever (19), with some countering with other numbers, such as a 3.85 ERA.
Regardless, Pettitte’s impact on Sabathia is not up for debate. As Sabathia began to lose his velocity, his difficulties began. From 2013-15 Sabathia, who also had knee issues, went 23-27 with a 4.81 ERA. Last year, he had a rebirth of sorts, going 9-12 but with a 3.91 ERA, his lowest since 2012. Additionally, Sabathia went 2-2, 2.37 in his last eight starts.
“I think last year he started seeing a lot of success and started to make that adjustment into the kind of pitcher that he’s going to need to be moving forward,” Pettitte said.
The still-developing cutter was critical to that last season.
“It’s just getting a lot more consistent,” Sabathia said. “Second inning I threw some good ones back to back to back. Being able to throw it consistent is the key, and I feel I’m getting close to that.”
Sabathia, 36, is entering the final year of his contract. On the day he reported to camp, he said he wants to pitch beyond this season, health permitting. Pettitte, with a mid- to high 80s fastball the latter part of his career, pitched effectively until the end. At 41, he went 11-11 with a 3.74 ERA in 2013, and he doesn’t doubt Sabathia can do the same.
“I know he feels good about things, I know he’s feeling good and he’s very confident,” Pettitte said. “When you have the stuff that he had and was a power pitcher like he was, throwing in the mid- to upper 90s, it was a big adjustment for him to almost learn how to pitch again. I never had that kind of velocity, but you get out there and you just start figuring out what pitches guys can’t handle and you continue to get a better feel for it, and I think that’s what ‘C’ is seeing. And he’s getting a better feel for that cutter. It’s like if he can figure this cutter out, there’s no way he can’t have success.”
Comparing the Yankee years for two of the top lefties in pinstripe history:
ANDY PETTITTE CC SABATHIA
2,796 1⁄3 INNINGS1,509
18-10POSTSEASON W-L 7-2