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CC Sabathia downplays velocity talk, says he's ahead of last year

Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia throws a pitch

Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia throws a pitch during the second inning of an exhibition baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday, March 1, 2014 in Tampa, Fla. Credit: AP / Charlie Neibergall

TAMPA, Fla. - CC Sabathia suffered through the worst season of his career in 2013, one he's described in harsh terms.

"Embarrassing" usually leads the pack.

But what the lefthander wouldn't do last year -- and the topic already is wearing on him -- is use his diminished velocity as an alibi.

"My fastball is what it is," said Sabathia, who started and threw two scoreless innings in the Yankees' 4-0 victory over the Phillies Saturday at Steinbrenner Field. "If it gets better, it will; if not, it won't. I can pitch. I'm fine. As long as I'm healthy, I'll be good."

Sabathia was not good at all in 2013, when he went 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA and had a fastball that regularly sat at 89 to 91 mph, down from the 93 to 95 he featured for much of his career.

Sabathia, however, never blamed that for his struggles. Instead, he said Saturday, he got into trouble when he tried to overcompensate after having surgery to remove a bone spur in his pitching elbow after the 2012 season. It impacted his offseason throwing program, causing him to enter 2013 spring training with the feeling that he was behind.

He said he got into bad habits that affected his release point, which contributed to his fastball cutting back over the plate, a combination that led to a career-worst 28 homers allowed.

"I think I was trying to protect it early in the year, last year in spring training, and got into bad habits," he said. "My release point was a lot different than this year. I'm not worried about my elbow, my shoulder. Everything feels good . . . I feel right now like I did at the end of spring last year. I'm definitely ahead of where I was last year, so I feel good."

An offseason conditioning program also brought him to camp significantly slimmer -- 275 pounds instead of the 290 he weighed when he showed up last year, which already was 25 fewer than his usual 315.

"My arm strength is a little more," Sabathia said. "Been throwing all offseason. My fastball is coming along a lot faster than last year. Off-speed pitches are a lot better. The changeup looked good today. I just need to keep working."

Sabathia's fastball rested in the range of 87 to 89 mph Saturday, though one opposing team scout had him peaking at 91. But Sabathia didn't especially like discussing his fastball velocity last season and isn't warming to it this year, either.

Asked what he expects his velocity to be this year, he said "where it is," adding that the media made "way too much" of it last season.

His manager agrees.

"That was something people wanted to make a ton about last year, and I'm not going to make much of it," Joe Girardi said. "To me, if he's downhill and locating, I don't care what his velocity is. He's going to get people out."

Sabathia, who allowed two hits and no walks and struck out one Saturday, said he was most pleased that his fastball consistently went where it was supposed to, without the cut action so prevalent in 2013.

"Everything stayed true," he said. "The ball stayed true and I was behind everything, and the arm feels great. I'm just going to keep working and try to make my pitches better and take it into the season."

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