CC's return adds cog to Yanks' already strong machine
NEW YORK -- As if the Yankees didn't have enough going for them right now, CC Sabathia stepped off the disabled list in stunning fashion at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, stabilizing the starting rotation.Can Andy Pettitte be far behind? The Yankees have been humming along on all cylinders for a while now. With their 6-1 win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday, they have won four out of five since the All-Star break and eight out their last 10 overall. Their lead over the other four teams in the American League East is so huge, they could drive a Mack truck through it. And now Sabathia is back in the fold after 22 days on the DL with a strained left groin. It was CC weather at the Stadium, with the game-time temperature hovering at 95 degrees. And as seasoned CC followers know, the hot and steamy summer months are when he turns it on. "I love it," Sabathia said after following his usual pattern and whisking through six innings of scoreless, four-hit ball in the hot weather. "I don't have to worry in between innings about my arm getting loose. My arm feels good when it's warm. It's just one of those things for me." As July now heads toward August, this is what CC and the Yankees have to look forward to: Lifetime, the left-hander is 41-12 with a 3.29 ERA in 64 August starts. "It's July," Sabathia said with a laugh when apprised of his August stats. He's now 26-25 in July, but he's well aware that the summer's hottest month is approaching. "Well, hopefully I can keep it up," he said. The Yankees can only hope. Their 56-34 record is the best in the Major Leagues, and their division lead is by far the widest in baseball, doubling the five-game bulge the Rangers have on the Angels in the AL West. Sabathia is now 10-3 with a 3.27 ERA in 16 starts. Including the All-Star break, he missed about three weeks, but only two starts. The scary thing about that for opponents is that he's going into his best month relatively fresh, having tossed just 113 innings. Historically, he throws well in excess of 200 innings a year, and this year he may not even reach that mark. The last two years, he averaged 237. "I don't think that's a bad thing," manager Joe Girardi said. "That's how I kind of looked at it. I looked up, and seeing he's not already at 130, 140 innings will really help him in the long run." A slimmer Sabathia said that his offseason weight loss has helped his conditioning and his stamina. He lost 20 pounds, and though the Yankees' media guide still lists him at 290, the weight loss takes pressure off his legs and has allowed him to recover quickly from the first significant in-season injury of his career. Certainly, from a profile view, his 6-foor-7 frame looks noticeably thinner. "I definitely think [the weight loss] helps," Sabathia said. "When I come out of the bullpen before the game, it feels good. It makes a big difference in how I feel. No question about it." On Tuesday night, Sabathia matched teammate Ivan Nova for the team lead in wins with 10. Phil Hughes, with nine, and Hiroki Kuroda (eight) are right behind that pair. Even Freddy Garcia, demoted to the bullpen after an 0-2 record and a 12.51 ERA in April, has rebounded in Pettitte's absence to win four times. All of those wins have come from June 16 on. After a horrendous start, the Yankees have rebounded to rank 10th in the Major Leagues with a 3.80 ERA, and their starters are second with 41 wins, two behind the Rangers. And that's without Pettitte, who is expected to be out for at least another four weeks as he recovers from a broken bone in his left ankle, an injury he sustained when he took a batted ball off the foot on June 27, against the Indians. Bad luck? "Bad reflexes," said Pettitte, who's been with the team this homestand continuing his rehab. "I shouldn't have gotten my foot in the way." Three days before that, in a previous start against the Mets, Sabathia sustained the groin injury. So when Pettitte went down, the Yankees took a double blow, but they played through it. Including the win on June 24, they are 14-6 since. "These guys stepped up," Sabathia said. "Freddy has been good. The bullpen has pitched great. It made it a little easier [on me] that we've been winning. But it feels good to be back and contributing toward a win." The Yankees will take that. They'll also take a healthy, rested Sabathia and Pettitte when the postseason dawns for them on Oct. 6.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.