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CC Sabathia must make his move

The Yankees need him to be not just good, but their ace
09/21/2012 12:05 PM ET
By Jon Lane

Sabathia and Co. are hoping the ace left-hander can overcome a recent rough stretch.(AP)
He’s healthy, pitcher, team and organization insist.  But even if deep down CC Sabathia truly isn’t gutting through the remnants of elbow stiffness that landed him on the disabled list in August, he hasn’t been the lockdown ace New York has grown to love since 2009. The Big Lefty is 0-3 with a 4.67 ERA over his last four starts – all Yankees losses – at a time his teammates need him the most.

After allowing four runs on six hits with two walks and three strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings last Friday against the Rays, Sabathia suffered his third consecutive loss for the first time wearing pinstripes. During the Yankees’ current five-game winning streak, and 8-2 run over their last 10 games, they have received at or near peak performances from each of their starting pitchers, including Andy Pettitte on Wednesday in his first game in nearly three months after recovering from a broken fibula.

The alarming exception has been Sabathia, 13-6 with a 3.63 ERA but who’s been tagged for 14 earned runs over 27 innings over this four-start skid. For the first time in his Yankees career – and one of the rare times since debuting in 2001 by winning 17 games – there are questions and concerns about Sabathia as he takes the ball Friday night in a key series against the wild card-leading Oakland Athletics.

The Yankees are in a good spot with 13 games left in the regular season. They enter Friday a game ahead of the persistent and red-hot Baltimore Orioles and are a game better than Oakland. In the event the teams meet in a one-game playoff October 5, it would take place at Yankee Stadium, but the Yankees don’t want to book that date. They want the capture the AL East flag and enter the postseason as at least the No. 2 seed. To do that, they must create distance from both the A’s and especially the Orioles.

It’s up to Sabathia to keep the ball rolling by doing what he does when he’s on, take hold the baseball and take over the game. Because Sabathia is held to higher standards, this is something he has to do, and he has to figure it all out beginning Friday night.

“I have a lot of faith in CC. He’ll figure it out and get this right," said manager Joe Girardi. "It's weird; CC goes six or seven innings and gives up three runs and we say, 'What's wrong with CC?' He's still pitched OK, it's just not what we've seen the previous years that he's been here. We need him to get on a roll, and (Friday) would be a good day to start."

Prior to this bump in the road, Sabathia went 6-0 with a 3.25 ERA. This is the time where he needs to be just as good, if not better, because the Yankees have hit their stride amid forecasts of gloom after losing all of a 10-game AL East lead they enjoyed on July 18.

That doesn’t mean it’s been a sigh of relief. The Orioles are winners of four straight and the reason why they didn’t emerge victorious on Thursday was due to an off day. While Sabathia and the Yankees will have their hands full with an A’s team that swept them four straight in late July, the Orioles are in Boston this weekend playing the 68-83 Red Sox. On the Orioles’ side are both the schedule and Mojo taking the field knowing they’re going to win each time they take the field.

Not far from where many eyes around Yankees Universe will be watching and pulling for the Red Sox – pennant races create strange bedfellows – a lot more will be eye-witnesses to Sabathia with big hope that the Big Lefty is not merely good or very good, but great. It’s what aces do. Sabathia has long accepted the responsibility. He insists his arm and body aren’t betraying him, but there’s only one way he can convince that this is fact, and he has no other choice.

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC

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