TAMPA, Fla. — CC Sabathia was not insulted.
Though he far and away has the best resume of the pitchers competing for a spot in the Yankees’ rotation, the lefthander — no longer the ace he once was — occasionally gets asked if he believes he’s one of the best five starters in camp.
Sunday was the most recent of those times. Sabathia was not sharp in a 3-0 loss to the Phillies, allowing three runs (two earned) and five hits in 1 2⁄3 innings.
So is he one of the best five? “I think so,” Sabathia said. “I think I can compete in this game and get guys out. So yeah, for sure.”
For a pitcher who is 214-129 with a 3.69 ERA in his career, not to mention a Cy Young Award, is the question a shot to his ego?
“No,” Sabathia said. “I’m 35 years old. I’ve thrown a lot [of innings]. We’re here trying to win, so it is what it is.”
To be clear, it seems unlikely that a healthy Sabathia — who looked good in his debut Tuesday against the Marlins in Jupiter and again stressed Sunday that he feels good physically — will start the season anywhere but the rotation. He is due $25 million this season and has never pitched out of the bullpen.
Regardless, Joe Girardi said: “We’re going to take what we feel is the five best. Bottom line.”
He added later: “If you don’t make the rotation, you’re probably in the bullpen.”
Still, at this point, that fate would appear to be Ivan Nova’s and not Sabathia’s. Nova has pitched well in his two starts, but the 29-year-old will be a free agent at season’s end and has nothing close to Sabathia’s regular-season track record, 46-33 with a 4.33 ERA in six years.
Sabathia started well enough Sunday, striking out leadoff man Peter Bourjos with a slider and getting Cesar Hernandez to fly to right. But he committed an error on Maikel Franco’s dribbler to the mound — twice failing to pick up the ball cleanly — and Ryan Howard followed with an RBI double.
Sabathia allowed two more runs in the second, with Freddy Galvis starting the inning with a single and Nick Williams and Hernandez adding RBI singles later in the inning. He departed with the bases loaded after hitting Howard with a pitch. Dellin Betances struck out Darin Ruff to end the inning.
“Just being mentally locked in more than anything,” Sabathia said of his main difficulty. “Had two strikes a bunch of times with two outs and couldn’t make that pitch.”
Opposing team scouts said there was a reason for that.
“Fastball was weak and flat,” the scout said. “And his breaking ball is not playing at all to righthanded hitters. Galvis and Hernandez got great looks at him and neither is strong from the right side.”
Sabathia’s fastball sat in the range of 86 to 89 mph, where it has been much of the last three seasons. Another scout said he will have to survive on his other pitches.
“His secondary selection will have to carry him, especially commanding the changeup and breaking balls,” the scout said. “Fastball has to be pinpoint . . . It’s going to be a project.”