BALTIMORE — No. 249 came at a significant cost Wednesday night for CC Sabathia, who revealed after the Yankees’ 7-5 victory over the Orioles that his troublesome right knee is a problem again, and serious enough for him to join the team’s already-crowded injured list.
“It was hurting pretty bad,” said Sabathia, who stayed around long enough for the five-and-fly, 88-pitch win. “But I was able to get through it.”
Beating the pathetic Orioles, however, is a rather small concern amid the Yankees’ bigger rotation issues, which now seem much more concerning after we discovered that Sabathia has been pitching on one leg for a while. The Yankees knew that CC was a wild card heading into this season. He’s coming off heart surgery, and turns 39 in July.
But Sabathia, who started the season late, glossed over those fears with the feel-good story of 3,000 strikeouts and the 2.97 ERA through his first seven starts. That got us to believe CC might make this a magical farewell tour, that his past medical issues wouldn’t derail his quest for No. 250 and he had a puncher’s chance of surviving an entire season.
Now you have to wonder. Sabathia said the knee, subject to multiple surgeries, has bothered him since “a couple starts ago” and Wednesday night was the final straw.
“It’s like a shooting pain every time I land,” Sabathia said. “It’s hard to finish my pitches.”
Contrary to the standard Yankees’ medical protocol, CC didn’t sugarcoat the prognosis late Wednesday night as he stood in the middle of the visitors clubhouse. You’d expect he’d be thrilled about closing to within one victory of his covered personal milestone, with a season-high seven strikeouts, but that wasn’t the case. Dealing with the knee had overshadowed that satisfaction, and now his attention must focus on getting it in shape to pitch again.
The one positive? This is an all-too-familiar process for CC at this stage of his career. He knows the drill. First he’s got to get the swollen knee drained, then a cortisone shot to handle the inflammation, then the synvisc injection — a lubricating agent that is meant to compensate for all the cartilage he’s lost during his 19-year career. All of that must be followed by rest, and the length of time required for Sabathia to return to the rotation wasn’t immediately clear.
“That should do the trick,” Sabathia said. “Just have to let the medicine get in there and do it’s magic.”
So as the Yankees wait for Sabathia, the question becomes: What can the Yankees pull out of their hat to cover for his absence? Masahiro Tanaka just took a 111-mph grounder off his left shin Saturday but is returning for Thursday’s series finale at Camden Yards. If they were in better shape pitching-wise, maybe Tanaka gets another day or two to heal up. But the Yankees already used Chad Green as an “opener” last Sunday and they’re expected to try a similar tactic Friday when they start a three-game series in Kansas City.
That’s also the day James Paxton (knee inflammation) pitches a simulated game in Tampa, with the Yankees’ hoping that’s the last tuneup he needs before rejoining the rotation. Beyond that, it’s likely that Chance Adams or Nestor Cortes Jr. takes Sabathia’s next turn, and they’ll keep their fingers crossed that CC can return after that.
What else can the Yankees do? After Aaron Boone told us about CC’s knee issues, he was asked if they had enough pitching to cover for him.
“Oh yeah,” Boone said. “We’ve got a number of guys in there. We’ll make it work.”
You’ve really got to admire Boone’s relentless optimism. In the same breath the manager was telling us he had to stay away from Zack Britton in Wednesday’s game because the reliever was “a little beat up.” He didn’t elaborate, and by now, we’ve just come to accept that rarely a day passes without some sort of affliction.
Yet despite all that, why shouldn’t Boone believe everything will turn out OK? Sabathia’s knee now inflates the Yankees’ injured list to 14, but they’re still in first place, still on a 23-7 roll (the best record in the majors during that span) and still have another game left with the Orioles, followed by a weekend trip to take on the lowly Royals (17-32).
If nothing else, these ’19 Yankees find a way. And with this Sabathia red flag, it’s a reminder that they’ll need to find a Keuchel, Bumgarner or Stroman a little later down the line as well.