TAMPA, Fla. — CC Sabathia may be on his way to becoming the most expensive long reliever in baseball history.
Sabathia, locked in a one- sided fifth-starter battle with Ivan Nova, put the Yankees in a four-run hole four batters into Friday night’s 11-2 loss to the Orioles at Steinbrenner Field.
Sabathia allowed a pair of doubles and another batter reached on a fielder’s choice before Mark Trumbo unloaded a three-run home run to give Baltimore a 4-0 lead.
Baltimore scored three times in the fourth. The runs were unearned because of an error by third baseman Rob Refsnyder.
Sabathia was charged with seven runs (four earned) in 3 2⁄3 innings. He gave up six hits, walked two and struck out one. Of his 63 pitches, 37 were strikes. His ERA is 7.36 after three outings. Nova’s is 2.00.
“I thought he pitched better than the numbers indicated,” manager Joe Girardi said. “But he made some mistakes.”
At this point in his career, Sabathia, 35, doesn’t have the luxury of using spring training as a way to get his arm in shape. The company line has been that he has to show he’s one of the best five to keep his rotation spot. Unless there’s an injury to one of the other starters, he could begin the season in the bullpen despite his $25-million salary.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I’ve got a couple more starts, so I feel healthy and I’ll be ready to go.”
Sabathia will be owed $25 million for 2017 unless he suffers a shoulder injury this year. “He’s competing,” Girardi said. “And these are important starts.”
Sabathia pointed out that he has never been a good spring training pitcher. He also said he isn’t approaching each start as a referendum on his rotation spot. “I can’t,” he said. “I’m just not wired like that.”
Said Girardi: “It’s a tough decision. It’s going to be a tough decision.”
How tough would it be for the Yankees to tell Sabathia he’s going to the bullpen? Very tough, it would seem.
“It’s an open competition,” general manager Brian Cashman said before the game. “So we’ll see where that takes us. But I’m not going to speak about how tough something would be. I’m not in that position.”
Notes & quotes: The Yankees offered a minor-league contract to infielder Ruben Tejada, but the former Met turned it down, a baseball source confirmed. Tejada, who was released by the Mets on Wednesday, hopes to get a major-league contract . . . Brett Gardner went 0-for-3 in his second game . . . Aaron Hicks returned after missing one game with an eye infection and had a triple.