By Ernie Palladino
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Anyone searching for a jarring visual experience should have seen CC Sabathia throw against the Phillies on Saturday.
The fact that his fastball traveled at a molasses-slow (for him) 88 mph wasn’t the real story. It was how he looked after cutting 30 pounds over the winter.
The folks behind the plate can tell you. When facing them full-front, no problem. But once the formerly corpulent left-hander turned into his windup, well, it looked like a baseball was thrown from the Invisible Man.
OK. You figured it out. We’re just making a joke about CC’s new, svelte figure. After all, 275 pounds and the word thin can only appear in the same sentence under relative conditions, such as “CC has trimmed himself to a thin 275 pounds from the three bills and change he soared to last summer.”
And so, the jokes. But there is a serious side to this, and it has nothing to do with a radar gun. Sabathia’s speed either will or won’t improve as the Yankees move closer to Opening Day. But whether it does or not, anyone who knows baseball knows that location and movement have just as much to do with pitching success as speed and power. Sabathia will never become a finesse pitcher, but if he hits enough spots and his fastball has enough action on it, regardless of speed, he’ll be fine.
The difference, and it is a positive one, is that his weight loss will benefit him in the long run. He’s had knee problems, but his new frame will alleviate those issues if he can keep the weight off throughout the season.
That will only help the Yanks rebound from last year’s disappointment. If Sabathia can get back to his old self, only tied up in his newer, more efficient package, he and Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka could produce a potent 1-2 punch. Tanaka was nothing if not impressive in throwing a “dirty” splitter for three strikeouts in two innings the same day.
The key is Sabathia’s return. And that has little to do with miles per hour, and more to do with sustained health and innings pitched. The weight loss, this time accompanied by nutritional balance and steady workouts, should help him improve his stamina and allow him to remain a deep-innings pitcher throughout the season.
If nothing else, it should help him rebound from his worst season ever.
“I’ve been throwing all offseason,” Sabathia told the media after his outing. “My fastball’s been coming along a lot faster than last year, and my off-speed pitches are a lot better.”
The Yanks can only hope Sabathia’s self-observations are accurate. Even if the lefty and Tanaka live up to billing, the back of the rotation still has some issues, and the lineup has a bunch of question marks.
There is no saying that shortstop is a sure thing, what with Derek Jeter’s uncertain health as he closes the curtain on the season. He is moving well right now, but it’s anybody’s guess how much the Yanks will really get out of him this year.
Third base without Alex Rodriguez will be a huge question mark, and just how much does Mark Teixeira have left in him at first? Will David Robertson handle the closer role and the inevitable and unfair comparisons to the incomparable Mariano Rivera?
They are all legitimate issues. But at least Sabathia might have eliminated one of them through controlled weight loss. Whether the miles per hour increase, that’s another story.
Whether the velocity comes back or not, losing 30 pounds in a healthier manner can only help the big lefty — no jokes here — and relieve Joe Girardi of just one of the several headaches he’ll deal with as the season grows nearer.
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