ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- In the quiet of the Yankees' clubhouse after Sunday's blowout loss to the Rays, CC Sabathia sat near his locker, alternating between looking down and straight ahead.
Sitting beside him was pitching coach Larry Rothschild, offering some encouraging words.
Sabathia, who has been increasingly average-looking during the past month, had just endured his worst start of the year in an 8-3 loss that kept the Yankees (30-19) from a three-game sweep. But they went a respectable 3-3 on this trip to Baltimore and Tampa Bay. The loss was a mere sidenote to Sabathia's outing, one in which he allowed seven runs in seven innings.
Sabathia (4-4) has seen his ERA climb from 2.57 after his fourth start to 3.96. In his last seven starts, he is 1-3 with a 4.84 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP. "I'm hurting the team,'' he said. "I'm not helping the team."
Rothschild said they will work on some minor mechanical tweaks before his next start. His primary purpose in talking to Sabathia after the game was to remind him that he brought a 195-105 career record into Sunday's game for a reason.
"Look at what you've done and what you are," Rothschild said. "The track record is there, and it's not there just because of the stuff he's had, it's there because of the way he competes. There's a lot of guys with great stuff that don't win the games that he's won, and I think you'll see him get back to that."
"He's too smart, he's too talented not to rebound from this,'' said Joe Girardi, who added: "Hopefully, this month is behind him and he'll take off again next month."
Sabathia, now winless in five starts, had allowed 21 hits in 122/3 innings in his previous two outings but had been able to keep his team in the game. That did not happen against light-hitting Tampa Bay (25-24). After a two-run second in which the Yankees' defense all but gave them the runs, the Rays got two-run homers from Sean Rodriguez in the third and James Loney in the sixth to break open the game.
"I just didn't give us a chance," said Sabathia, who reiterated that he's healthy. "I didn't keep the game close and give these guys a chance to feel like they could come back."
The stuff Alex Cobb threw at the Yankees made a comeback of any kind unlikely. He allowed only an infield single through the first six innings and gave up two runs and five hits in 81/3 innings in improving to 6-2, 2.66.
"He was good today. You have to give it to him," Robinson Cano said. "Everything was moving pretty good, especially his fastball."
With the Yankees trailing 8-0, Brett Gardner led off the ninth with his fifth home run. After Cano's second hit and a strikeout, lefty Cesar Ramos replaced Cobb, walked Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay and allowed a two-run double off the left-centerfield wall by David Adams that made it 8-3. Joel Peralta then struck out Ichiro Suzuki and Jayson Nix to end it.
Sabathia said of his difficulties: "It's just everything." But neither he nor Rothschild pinned his problems on his fastball, consistently in the range of 89 to 90 mph all season, down from the mid-90s it has been for much of his career.
"In this league, if you have velocity but not location, you're going to get hit most of the time," Rothschild said. "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."
He added: "Even today, he gave us seven innings. It's obviously not what you want [seven runs] from your No. 1 pitcher, but there's not a lot of guys that do that. We're in a 17-game stretch and he saves the bullpen. Even though it's a really bad day for him."
Said Cano, "I know he'll figure it out. That's the last guy I worry about."