It sounds as if left-hander CC Sabathia, whose recovery from knee issues offered the Yankees some faint hope of bolstering their rotation behind ace Masahiro Tanaka, won't be back this year. Sabathia was shelled during a rehab start at Double-A Trenton on Wednesday, then woke up on Thursday with fluid and swelling in his knee. An MRI revealed inflammation, but a follow-up trip to see Dr. James Andrews was scheduled. This morning, ESPN's Buster Olney reported that microfracture surgery on the knee was a possibility, and this afternoon, Yankees manager Joe Girardi seemed to agree, saying, "I think that's fair to say," when asked if he assumed Sabathia was done for the season.
Sabathia is not scheduled to see Andrews until July 14, so his status will remain unknown until then at earliest.
Should the 2007 Cy Young Award winner not return to pitch this season, the question of how much he has left in the tank will remain in abeyance until next spring. In 2013, the pitcher's velocity and strikeout rate dropped to an average of 91.3 mph, and a further drop, to an average of 89.6 mph, was seen in his eight starts this spring. In a league in which the average pitcher is allowing about one home run per nine innings pitched, Sabathia had allowed 10 in 46 innings, or an even 2.0. The ratio would lead the league by a wide margin were Sabathia to qualify -- Wei-Yin Chen of Baltimore and Jake Peavy of Boston are currently tied for the worst rate on the circuit at 1.5 home runs per nine.
Sabathia's strikeout rate remained high, a good sign, but the decreased velocity and the regularity with which batters were making hard contact was troubling. He had an ERA of 7.47 in three starts at home, and, as Bill James once wrote, it's never a good thing to have the ERA of a jumbo jet. His ERA away from home run-loving Yankee Stadium was a livable 4.15 (about league average for starting pitchers this year), but he had still allowed seven round-trippers in just 30⅓ innings; the ERA was probably fated to rise.
Ironically, Sabathia was less of a jumbo jet himself this season, having shed a great deal of weight, but the breakdown came anyway. With 2,775⅓ innings entering the season, he had pitched more innings by age 32 than any hurler of the last 40 years except Greg Maddux, and was roughly 40 innings ahead of the next left-hander, Frank Tanana, and 200 ahead of Frank Viola.
With 205 career wins coming into the season, tying him with Tim Hudson for the lead among active pitchers to that point, Sabathia seemed like the most likely candidate to be the game's next 300-game winner, assuming he could make a successful adjustment to his declining stuff. That all seems doubtful now, as does his ability to fulfill the remaining two or three years of his contract (the latter depending on a vesting option) at a high level. Regardless, the Yankees are on the hook for $23 million this year and either $53 million or $73 million through 2017.