Yankees Pregame Notebook: Sweeping away the Windy City?
Sabathia comes in with an un-CC-like 12-11 record and 4.91 ERA this season, but he's won three of his last four decisions and spun quality starts in three of his last five outings, so manager Joe Girardi is confident that his workhorse can be a thoroughbred as usual down the stretch.
"We've seen a lot of good innings from him (of late)," Girardi said. "It seems at times that one inning gets away from him a little bit, but I think his sinker has been better, I think his changeup has been better, his velocity has actually increased a little bit, and we've seen some really good innings out of him."
With the Yankees sitting just 2 1/2 games back of a wild card berth entering play, they know that every game matters - and even with a four-game series against AL East leader Boston looming after Chicago's visit ends, Girardi said he reminded his team that because every game matters, every game should also be the only one they're worrying about.
"I think it's a confident group, but we know that we can't take anything - or any games - for granted. We need to continue to push and push and push and see what happens," he said. "I don't want our guys to look towards the weekend, I want to make sure were concentrating on today. We had a chance to sweep over the weekend before this, and we blew a lead; it can happen quickly, so we have to keep the pedal to the metal."
Still, with their final 24 games including seven with their division leader, three with a team they're chasing in the Wild Card (Tampa), four with a team chasing them (Baltimore), and the other 10 against last place teams, the Yankees seem to control their own destiny - and Girardi thinks the veteran core he has will perfectly keep that all in perspective.
"I think our guys understand how fun it is to be in the playoffs and how rewarding it is when you have to fight for it, but I think they also understand that you have to have the same personality every day - you can't get too high or too low," Girardi said. "They've been through challenges before and know they've had success, and I think all of those things help when you're doing what we're trying to do."
As for tonight's lineup, it looks pretty similar to those of late, with one notable exception: third baseman Alex Rodriguez is hitting sixth, a move Girardi said was made solely to keep balance and break up the left-handed trio of Curtis Granderson (fifth), Ichiro Suzuki (seventh), and Lyle Overbay (eighth).
In the bullpen, Girardi said he expects to have Phil Hughes, who pitched 1.1 innings before the rain on Monday and was bumped from his scheduled Saturday, available today, and the skipper said he could use Hughes as a long man or as a short man, depending on the day.
"I think you look at the situation on a daily basis, and who you have and who you don't have," Girardi said. "We've seen Phil do it before, so he should have confidence that he can do it."
Hughes has had a rough season, posting a 4-13 record and 4.86 ERA, but as Girardi alluded to, Hughes excelled as part of the bridge to Mariano Rivera during the run to the 2009 World Series, and the skipper thinks his righty can be a key cog in the back end if needed over the final four weeks simply because there will be less pressure on him - and less asked of him, too.
"As a reliever a lot of times you don't need four pitches, or even three pitches," Girardi said. "If you're Mo you only need one pitch, but most relievers will have two, and sometimes guys just do better in that role."
Hughes himself admitted that while he wasn't specifically told whether the demotion to the bullpen was for one start or the rest of the season, he said he "got the impression" it was the latter and will now turn his focus towards being a full-time reliever.
"I was looking forward to having a good September in the rotation," Hughes said, "but obviously that's not in the plans, so I'll turn my attention to doing the best job out of the bullpen that I possibly can in whatever role that is. That's it, that's all I can do."
Other news and notes from the Yankee clubhouse prior to their final meeting with an AL Central team:
-Girardi was asked about Alfonso Soriano's defensive difficulties Tuesday night, but didn't seem too upset with either play he didn't make: "Maybe he could go back and say 'I should have gone at it from this angle' but the effort was great; balls just got by him, and that happens from time to time. I don't think he would've caught the one to left center anyway."
-Ivan Nova was named American League pitcher of the month for August after going 4-0 record with a 2.08 ERA and 31 strikeouts over six starts and 43.1 innings pitched. He's the first Yankees pitcher to win that distinction since CC Sabathia in July 2011, and he had three simple words about it: "It's an honor."
-Instead of a third straight Pale Hose lefty and fourth overall, the Yankees will instead be facing a righty tonight: Erik Johnson, who was Chicago's second-round pick in 2011 and will make his MLB debut tonight. Rookie starters have seemed to baffle the Yankees over the last couple years, so perhaps it will end up being shrewd move by Robin Ventura.
-Derek Jeter took sole possession of ninth place on the all-time hit list last night, and he is now four hits away from tying Paul Molitor for eighth place with 3,319. After that, it's a ways to go, as Carl Yastrzemski is seventh with 3,419.
-Today is a big day in history for Yankees battery players, as both Sad Sam Jones (1920) and Jim Abbott (1993) have thrown no-hitters for the Yanks on Sept. 4 and Jorge Posada made his MLB debut on this day in 1995.