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CC Sabathia's former catchers quick to downplay velocity questions

CC Sabathia delivers a pitch during the first

CC Sabathia delivers a pitch during the first inning of a spring training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, March 27, 2014. Credit: AP / Carlos Osorio

BRADENTON, Fla. - CC Sabathia capped a successful spring training with another solid outing Thursday, no surprise to a pair of former Yankees catchers in the opposing dugout.

And enough, both said, of the velocity questions.

"I don't think there's any doubt he's going to get back to where he needs to be, regardless of the velocity,'' said Chris Stewart, who caught Sabathia a combined 33 times in 2012 and 2013. "He's smart enough, he works hard enough to get the job done.''

Sabathia threw four scoreless innings in the Yankees' 4-2 victory over the Pirates at McKechnie Field, allowing three hits. He did not strike out or walk a batter.

Sabathia, 33, did not allow a run in 16 innings in his last three starts of spring training, giving up seven hits and a walk and striking out 12. He will make his next start in the Yankees' season opener Tuesday night in Houston.

"I feel good,'' he said. "My arm feels good, body feels good. I have no aches and pains or anything, so I'm ready to go on Tuesday.''

Much has been made about Sabathia's velocity, and Thursday, one opposing team scout had him sitting in the range of 86 to 88 mph throughout his 44-pitch outing.

Russell Martin, who caught Sabathia a combined 30 times when he was with the Yankees in 2011 and 2012, said before the game that focusing on his velocity ignores what has made him a front-line pitcher.

"The quality of his games doesn't necessarily correlate with how hard he's throwing that day,'' Martin said. "He's been a pitcher with power, he's always been a pitcher. He's never relied solely on overpowering people. He's always pitched, and that's why he's been one of the best of the best.''

But that wasn't the case last year. Sabathia struggled as he adjusted to being a pitcher no longer able to blow away opposing batters with a mid-90s fastball.

But he has said that part of the reason for that had to do with an elbow that never felt completely right -- he had a bone spur removed from it after the 2012 season -- and too much weight loss as the season progressed.

This year he arrived with no doubts about his elbow and has never felt physically stronger.

To help combat the dip in velocity, Sabathia, under the mentorship of Andy Pettitte, has begun to incorporate a cutter into his repertoire.

Sabathia said he threw five to 10 cutters Thursday and was pleased with the results, happy enough to test it during the regular season.

"I'll just wait for Mac to call it,'' Sabathia said, referring to catcher Brian McCann. "He's done a great job of learning us. Today he did a good job of a couple times where I wanted a pitch, he put it right down, which lets me know we're getting on the same page and he knows what I'm trying to do.''

Martin said adding an effective cutter, a weapon mostly against righty batters, will help Sabathia "a lot.''

"Right now he's got a good two-seamer, he's got a really good changeup,'' Martin said. "His two-seamer and changeup, they look the same coming out, so there's the deception there. If he's able to have a true cutter, a pitch that looks like a fastball coming but toward the end has that darting movement, it's tough to hit.

"It makes for an uncomfortable at-bat,'' he said. "Because now he has a two-seamer that's going off the plate away from you and then a cutter, for a righthander, is coming into you. You have to cover a lot of area. And that's what's uncomfortable.''

Armed with a cutter, his typically excellent changeup and a high-80s to low-90s fastball, Sabathia is set for 2014.

"I am transitioning to an older pitcher,'' he said. "It just is what is. The stuff I've got, I'll go out and compete with.''

New York Sports