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CC Sabathia heads to Yankees' bullpen to practice for playoffs

Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia waves to fans during

Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia waves to fans during a ceremony to honor him before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 22, 2019. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

On Sunday, CC Sabathia was in the passenger’s seat of a golf cart being driven around Yankee Stadium during a ceremony honoring him before the Yankees’ – and Sabathia’s – final regular-season home game.

On Tuesday night, Sabathia will be in the visitor’s bullpen at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, to begin a crash course in relief pitching. The goal is to see if Sabathia can adapt to the role and help the Yankees in the postseason.

“Oh, yeah,” Sabathia said. “I’m a bullpen guy . . . It’s exciting. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I don’t know what to expect. It’s the first time going out on the field and [thinking], ‘I’ve never done this,’ so we’ll see."

Sabathia has pitched in 584 big-league games, including the postseason. One has been out of the bullpen.

That was Game 5 of the 2011 American League Division Series against the Tigers, which the Yankees lost, 3-2. Sabathia allowed one run in 1 1/3 innings. That run turned out to be the eventual series-deciding one.

“It wasn’t good,” Sabathia said. “One inning, one run.”

Manager Aaron Boone said Sabathia will pitch twice out of the pen in the season’s final five games. It’s not unusual for a No. 5 starter to go to the bullpen in the postseason, but it is when the pitcher has Sabathia’s resume and reputation.

Sabathia has a career record of 251-161 in 19 seasons. As a Yankee since 2009, he is 134-88. He was the MVP of the 2009 ALCS and the leader of the pitching staff in the Yankees’ most recent World Series title-winning season.

“When the team needs it, you do whatever you can,” Sabathia said. “This is my role going forward, so I’m going to embrace it. Hopefully, I can step up and fill it good.”

Sabathia said he was focused more on his immediate pitching future than thinking about his post-playing days. But he did say he’d like to explore an advisor role with the Yankees similar to what former stars such as Carlos Beltran and Andy Pettitte now enjoy.

“At some point,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens. It seems like a pretty fun role. Something I feel like I can do.”

In looking back at his career, Sabathia expressed nothing but gratitude.

“I’m from Vallejo, [California], from the inner city. I’m from the ‘hood,’” Sabathia said. “Just making it was a big deal. I never thought past that first year. To be able to play this long is a blessing. To be able to play here, in this organization, has been a blessing. To win a championship, that’s all stuff I could have never imagined.”

As he prepares to depart, Sabathia is gifting each of his teammates a pair of signed cleats.

“It’s fun to be able to give a gift to those guys,” Sabathia said. “[Derek Jeter] and [Mariano Rivera] did the same thing, so I thought it’d be cool to give a gift to the guys on my way out.”

Is this really the way out? If pitching out of the bullpen goes well, will Sabathia rescind his retirement and come back as a lefty specialist?

“Come back and play? Hell, no,” he said. “I think 19 years of kind of pitching the way that I have – like, emotionally -- I’m kind of exhausted. It’ll be good next year to just kind of give that a break and give my body a break. But I’ll definitely miss the guys and the relationships I have in here. That’s what I’ll miss the most, for sure.”

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