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Girardi expects improved Sabathia in 2014

Despite down year, Yankees manager still sees left-hander as team's ace
09/26/2013 10:05 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Yankees manager Joe Girardi hasn't lost confidence in CC Sabathia's ability.(AP)
If there was anyone Yankees fans would historically want on the mound in a do-or-die game like Wednesday's, it would likely be CC Sabathia.

However, the nominal ace wasn't out there for his scheduled start, instead replaced by Phil Hughes because of the Grade 2 hamstring strain that will force him to miss the remainder of the season and forced him to sit and watch as the Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention.

It was a disappointing end to a disappointing season for Sabathia, who was placed on the 60-day disabled list prior to Wednesday's game, but manager Joe Girardi chose to accentuate the positives when talking about CC's season. 

"I don't think it was the year CC thought he would have because he's been so good for us, but he still managed to have 14 wins, and he still managed to give us over 200 innings - which, at times, the way we talked about him, you wouldn't have thought those two things were possible and his struggles would have kept him from doing that," Girardi said. "It was a battle for him all year long, but there are some things he probably learned about himself going through this year."

Sabathia's final start was perhaps his best of the year, a seven-inning, one-run performance made even more impressive by the fact that he suffered the hamstring injury very early on.

"The interesting thing is that he got hurt on Friday, and I thought that might have been the most consistent his fastball had been the whole year," Girardi said, "which is really strange to me how that could possibly happen. But I think he ended on a good note, and I think you'll see a different CC next year."

Sabathia's battle in 2013 may have partially been because he was still recovering from offseason elbow surgery, but Girardi and the lefty both noted that there were also some mechanical issues that he had to work through - and after seeing Friday's start, the skipper is certain those issues have been fixed.

"There were some things that he continued to work on to try to fix, and I saw it manifest itself on Friday that he looked like he had corrected them," Girardi said. "He was using his legs more, and the way he was taking the ball out was better, which leads me to believe that 2014 will be better."

And, in working through those issues - which also manifested in a bit of a drop in velocity at times - Girardi believes Sabathia has become an even better pitcher.

"I'm not so sure why, but when you have that extra gear, sometimes when you get in trouble it's easier to get out of it as opposed to having to make the perfect pitch," Girardi said. "I'm not sure why his mechanics were a little off, but he had that extra gear that he didn't necessarily have as much this year…there were some things he had to adjust to because everyone talked about his velocity all year long and he didn't have that little bit of extra that he could rely on this year and sometimes you have to make some adjustments. Next year, he'll be more prepared to deal with them."

And so, going forward, Girardi still looks at the 33-year-old southpaw as the ace of his staff.

"I still look at him as an ace. I know he had his ups and downs this year, but I was impressed by what he did on Friday, and it leads me to believe that next year is going to be different," Girardi said. "The easy thing is to question that, but the harder thing is to say that he's going to turn it around, and I think that's what he's going to do. … I just know his competitive nature, and that just tells me that he'll figure it out and he'll get back on track."

With Andy Pettitte retiring and both Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes set to become free agents this winter, the Yankees will have a lot of work to do to build a rotation, but with ace status cemented for his big lefty, Girardi acknowledged that build will come from the top down.

"CC will be No. 1," Girardi said, "and we'll go from there."

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