By Ernie Palladino
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Care to know where the 13-9 Yankees would be today if not for CC Sabathia and Derek Jeter?
Nowhere, man. Nowhere.
Granted, fans and observers were both worried about these guys at the start of the season.
Lingering doubts about Jeter’s effectiveness as a soon-to-be 38-year-old leadoff hitter/shortstop prevailed during spring training. Maybe it’s time for him to move down in the order, they said. He’s been around since man crawled from the muck, they said.
As for Sabathia, his first couple of starts were certainly reason for concern. The fastball wasn’t moving well at all, and his ERA sat at a decidedly unattractive 6.75 after giving up nine runs in 12 innings in two no-decisions.
Well, look at them now. Jeter, for all the doubts, and following an 0-for-7 mini-slump, is now hitting .389 after last night’s 1-for-4 outing in a 2-1 win over the Orioles. Sure, he’s down from the .420 he had after the Texas series. And his two hits Sunday versus Detroit were the first ones in the three games.
But guess what? He continued being productive in his own way. Thirty-seven hits in April tells it all. And when he wasn’t hitting against the Tigers, he was still getting on base via four walks. That’s half the walks he’s recorded this year.
That all factors into a .440 on-base percentage going into last night, which stood seventh among all Major League hitters.
He’s still setting the table effectively. He’s still producing. Still the guy Joe Torre described thusly:
“He’s either starting something, ending something, or is in the middle of something.”
Good on Jeter that he’s continued where his hot 2011 second half left off, because the Yanks need a good offensive catalyst these days. With Freddy Garcia demoted to bullpen duty after failing to get out of the second inning for the second straight time, Phil Hughes still looking like a long-reliever ill-disguised as a starter, and not much else around, Sabathia has turned from shaky to savior.
That’s how it should be, of course. But the hard-throwing left-hander has taken it a notch above that. He’s gone eight innings in his last two starts, allowing six earned runs in those 16 innings. Add the three runs he allowed in his 7 1/3-inning stint against the Twins on April 17, and you have a 3.48 ERA over three straight wins.
That’s not to mention the arms he saved in an overtaxed bullpen.
Right now, Sabathia stands as the only thing stopping the starters from bleeding the Yankees’ pitching to death, though he might have rubbed off on last night’s winner, Hiroki Kuroda. The 2-3 right-hander’s seven-inning, one-run pitching could signal a turning point for him. And with Andy Pettitte declaring himself ready for the big club after a 96-pitch, minor-league outing in Florida, additional help could be on the way.
Still, the Yankees brass might want him to throw one more start before bringing him up, which means the newly-inserted David Phelps will get a chance to provide another needed punch in his first major league start Thursday against the Royals.
But for the time being, Kuroda’s performance aside, the 290-pound Sabathia is the only starter the Yanks can truly count on.
Jeter, despite the age factor, continues to add offensive consistency at the top of the order.
Without those two, you have to wonder whether the third-place Yankees would be challenging Boston right now for the cellar in the AL East.
How far — and for how long — can CC and Jeter carry this team? Sound off in the comments below…