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Sabathia struggles in Double-A rehab start

C.C. Sabathia speaking with the media following Wednesday's rehab appearance in Trenton.
Dan Pfeiffer/

TRENTON – New York Yankees starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia looked like an imposing figure when he took the mound for the Double-A Trenton Thunder on Wednesday evening, but he was not scaring or fooling anybody in the Portland Sea Dogs lineup.

In his second rehabilitation start as he works his way back from a degenerative condition in his right knee, Sabathia was tagged for five runs – three earned – on five hits, a walk, and a hit batter in 3 2/3 innings of work. The former All-Star struck out two Portland hitters, both with his changeup. Prior to the game, Thunder manager Tony Franklin indicated that Sabathia would be limited to four innings or 60 pitches.

Sabathia got off to a rough start, allowing a pair of hard-hit balls that landed runners on second and third. Reigning Eastern League Player of the Week Sean Coyle then hit a long fly ball to center field, giving Portland a 1-0 lead by the end of the inning. The veteran left-hander was able to set Portland down in order with a nine-pitch second inning, but the success would not last, as the Sea Dogs offense struck again one inning later.

The 33-year-old former Cy Young award winner allowed a leadoff triple on a flat fastball to Derrik Gibson, who then scored on an overthrow from Thunder second baseman Dan Fiorito. It went downhill from there for Sabathia, who issued a walk to Wilkerson before Swihart launched a long RBI double to the center field wall, his second of the night. Sabathia would retire the next two hitters to get out of the inning, but the damage was done and Portland took a 3-0 lead.

After Trenton got a run back in the bottom of the third, Sabathia’s defense let him down in the fourth. Despite a leadoff single, Sabathia recorded two outs and appeared poised to get out of the inning before a fielding error by third baseman Rob Segedin on Sabathia’s last batter of the night. Both runners on base would come around to score against reliever Fred Lewis, with the runs being charged to Sabathia. After the game, Sabathia indicated that he felt good on the mound, and was simply trying to work primarily on his secondary pitches, where Portland recorded most of their hits.

“I need to work on my secondary pitches a little more,” Sabathia conceded. “The changeup was cutting but the slider was not as sharp as I would like it to be.”

“The triple to right field was on a 2-1 fastball,” Sabathia added. “But I’m pretty sure everything else was on changeups and sliders.”

While he spent much of his time on the mound working on his secondary pitches, Sabathia’s diminishing fastball velocity could not be overlooked. With the lack of velocity being one of the biggest stories surrounding the former ace over the past year, Sabathia admitted that he may never throw as hard as he once did, but it is not a concern to him.

“I think you guys make too much of my velocity,” he told approximately 20 media members. “I have been pitching for 14 or 15 years, and my velocity is what it is. As long as I am healthy and have no problems, velocity is going to be what it is going to be.”

Sabathia touched 92 mph with his second pitch of the game, but one American League scout had Sabathia sitting more in the 88-90 mph range after that. The scout’s bigger concern with Sabathia was that his fastball looked extremely flat throughout the four-inning performance, a thought that the big-leaguer disagreed with.

“I felt good,” Sabathia told reporters after his outing. “My secondary pitches weren’t that good, but my fastball I thought was coming out pretty good.”

At this point, it is unknown when or where Sabathia’s next rehab appearance will come, but it could come with the Thunder on Monday in Reading if he stays on normal rest.

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