CC Sabathia said he couldn’t help but admire Carlos Martinez on Saturday — that four-seamer Martinez dials up to 98 mph, the flailing swings that follow once he mixes it with his sinker and his slider.
When it was his turn, Sabathia would stride to the mound on his surgically repaired knee, brace firmly in place. He’d rear back and maybe crank it up to 92 mph, or throw in a back-door slider or the changeup he can spot on both sides of the plate.
“It’s always fun to throw 97,” Sabathia said after the Yankees’ 3-2 win over the Cardinals at Yankee Stadium. But Sabathia shrugged the past away: “I don’t really miss it, though.”
Forget for a minute that Martinez produced one of the most bizarre pitching lines you can imagine — four hits, eight walks and 11 strikeouts in 5 1⁄3 innings. On Saturday, the mound didn’t belong to Martinez’s youth or vigor but rather Sabathia’s steely determination to craft himself into a pitcher who can survive after his explosiveness is gone.
Sabathia allowed three hits and a walk in 7 1⁄3 innings, striking out six. Almost as important: He saved a taxed Yankees bullpen and the especially taxed duo of Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, neither of whom was available because of recent heavy workloads.
Thanks to his efforts, the Yankees — despite striking out 17 times in eight innings — moved to 5-0 at home and won their sixth straight overall. Sabathia, 36, is 2-0 with a 1.47 ERA after three starts.
The Cardinals didn’t get on the board until Jedd Gyorko’s solo homer with one out in the eighth, which knocked out Sabathia. Stephen Piscotty homered off Tyler Clippard with one out in the ninth to make it 3-2, but after allowing a two-out infield single and a walk, Clippard struck out Randal Grichuk to save Sabathia’s win.
“He’s been great,” Clippard said. “Since I got over here last year, [I’ve been] watching what he’s done just to reinvent himself a little bit. Obviously, early in his career, he was 95, 98, but now he’s the true veteran pitcher, hitting spots, changing speeds, moving in and out and up and down, and it’s really working for him. It’s been impressive to watch.”
That’s especially true when you compare it to the wild ride on which the usually reliable Martinez took the Cardinals.
He threw 58 pitches in the first two innings, either dominating the strike zone or losing it altogether. He walked six in that span and struck out the other six as the Yankees didn’t put a ball in play until they sent their 13th batter to the plate.
After walking Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks to begin the game, Martinez struck out Chris Carter and Jacoby Ellsbury, but a passed ball charged to Yadier Molina with Ellsbury up put runners on second and third. A wild pitch with Starlin Castro up gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead, and Martinez walked Castro and Chase Headley before striking out Greg Bird.
Martinez allowed two more walks and struck out three in the second. One might think the Yankees would be piling on with all that, but in the first five innings, they left 10 on base. They cashed in only after a sixth-inning misplay and an error.
Ronald Torreyes led off the inning with a blooper that looked eminently catchable but fell between Grichuk and Dexter Fowler for a double. One out later, Hicks hit a comebacker that was barehanded by Martinez, whose wild throw home sailed over Molina’s head. Torreyes scored, Hicks landed on second and Carter gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead with a sharp single to left, ending Martinez’s 118-pitch day.
Martinez was the first pitcher since Randy Johnson in 1993 to walk at least eight hitters and strike out at least 11 in a game, according to ESPN.
Meanwhile, Sabathia — despite admiring Martinez’s natural strengths — proved for one day to be the superior pitcher. So much of it, he said, comes down to just feeling better.
“[It’s] health,” he said, adding that he wants to pitch as long as his body will let him. “Just being able to repeat my delivery — feeling good. The goal coming out of spring training was to be able to be healthy for this, and it’s been working so far . . . I enjoy what I do now and feel confident I can get hitters out with what I have now.”
It might not make opposing players look over and marvel, but it sure does a good job of getting them out.