OAKLAND, Calif. - A quick question, and please give a knee-jerk response.
Which Yankees pitcher has given up the most home runs this season?
Most fans' initial thought would be Phil Hughes, a logical answer given that the righthander allowed 35 homers last season, tied for second most in the majors.
And while Hughes is again on pace to give up his share -- 12 entering Wednesday night's start against the Athletics -- to this point it's been CC Sabathia most victimized by the long ball, having allowed a team-high 14. That ranks him third in the AL behind the Royals' Jeremy Guthrie and the Orioles' Chris Tillman, who have allowed 16 apiece.
When asked if he was surprised by the number of homers Sabathia has surrendered, catcher Chris Stewart said. "A little bit. I just think he goes out and he throws strikes. Sometimes if you miss with those strikes and guys are ultra-aggressive guys are going to hit them out of the park. Normally when he's on, his ball is moving and it's to location. If he's not, then he gets in trouble."
Sabathia allowed two blasts, including a crucial three-run shot off the bat of Derek Norris, in the Yankees' 6-4 loss Tuesday, part of a game in which the lefthander fell to 6-5 with a 4.07 ERA after he allowed six runs and eight hits in six innings.
Joe Girardi said the homer trend wasn't alarming, but . . .
"We're aware of it," Girardi said before Wednesday night's game. "And we understand the fastball velocity isn't what it used to be, but my thought is he can still really pitch at a high level. Will he give up more home runs this year than last year? Probably. It would be great if he didn't but it's part of it and you have to deal with it."
Sabathia allowed 22 homers in 28 starts last season and 17 in 33 starts in 2011.
The lefthander's velocity drop has been a hot-button issue all season because his fastball, which once consistently reached the mid-90s, has hovered around in the 89-91 range this season.
According to PitchFX, Sabathia's fastball averaged 91.2 mph Tuesday.
Simply put, Sabathia's margin for error on pitches isn't what it used to be. For example, the 1-and-0 fastball Coco Crisp hit out in the first inning came in at 90 mph.
"He threw Coco a fastball that cut," Girardi said. "And maybe if it's 95, 94, you get away with it. But at 89, 90 he didn't."
It should be pointed out, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild has made the point repeatedly, that Sabathia got off to a pretty good start. He went 4-2 with a 3.35 ERA in six starts in April, but followed that with a 1-2, 4.14 performance in six May outings.
Sabathia had turned in two straight strong starts before Tuesday night's poor one.
It is, Rothschild and Sabathia have said, all about location.
"In this league, if you have velocity but not location, you're going to get hit most of the time," Rothschild said after Sabathia's rough outing May 26 against the Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., when he allowed seven runs in seven innings. "You get away with more pitches at higher velocities, but the thing I focus on is we have to execute those pitches consistently. Early in the season, he had the same velocity and pitched really well. It's just executing pitches a little bit better."