"I'm hurting the team," the Yankees' ace said after being racked up for a season-high seven earned runs, including a pair of two-run homers, in seven innings.
Sabathia didn't sound frustrated or puzzled or angry.
He sounded dejected.
"I'm not helping the team out," he said. "I just need to get better."
Sabathia's record of struggles at Tropicana Field are not new; since becoming a Yankee, he is 3-10 here with a 4.08 ERA and hasn't won in this ballpark in more than three years. Nor is his track record of slow starts.
But rarely has Sabathia endured a run of futility, both at The Trop and in one month, as he did Sunday and in May 2013. Sunday's game closed out a month in which he went 0-2 with three no-decisions and carried an ERA of 4.80. Overall, he is 4-4, 3.96, and his velocity, which everyone was sure would creep back into the low-to-mid-90s by now, remains mired in the 89-91 range.
When the media was allowed into the Yankees' clubhouse following the game, Sabathia and pitching coach Larry Rothschild were huddled in conversation at his locker, the subject of which both men preferred to keep private.
But clearly, there is concern over the way Sabathia has pitched so far this season, and the fact that rather than improve over time, he might even be regressing.
Asked what he thought the problem was, Sabathia said, "It's just everything. Not being able to make pitches with two strikes, fastball command, location. I just need to work and make certain I can get better and try to help the team."
Sabathia spoke in a barely audible whisper, and at times his voice seemed to shake. What clearly bothered him most of all was that his performance took the Yankees out of a game they might have been able to pull out after Rays starter Alex Cobb, who was brilliant, left the game with one out in the ninth. The Yankees rallied for three runs after Cobb left, but it wasn't nearly enough to climb out of the hole Sabathia had left them in.
"With this team that we have, we battle to the end," he said. "We did it tonight. I just didn't give us a chance. That's the worst part, just not keeping the game close and giving these guys a chance to feel like they can come back and win the game."
Sabathia says his left elbow, surgically cleaned out in the offseason, "feels great," and he insists he has no physical problems that have caused him to lose velocity, and Sunday, command of his fastball.
But neither he, Rothschild nor Joe Girardi had a clear explanation for why Sabathia left a 2-0 fastball, clocked at 91, over the middle of the plate so Sean Rodriguez, who had only one home run so far this season -- off Andy Pettitte -- could drive it inside the left-field foul pole for a two-run homer in the third. Nor why Sabathia's 1-2 sinker to James Loney stayed up in the zone and became a souvenir for someone in the right-center bleachers to make it 7-0 in the sixth.
"There's some inconsistency there," Rothschild said. "He's missing some spots at times and he's not getting away with any pitches. Every bad pitch he made got hit today."
"The ball Rodriguez hit cut right back over the middle," Sabathia said. "It was just a bad pitch."
But all agreed that CC's lack of velocity has nothing to do with his current problems; as Rothschild pointed out, "He had the same velocity earlier in the season and pitched really well."
Rothschild said there were some "little" mechanical things he thought they could iron out, but it seemed as if their clubhouse conversation was more about confidence building and positive reinforcement than with adjusting mechanics.
"I like to keep the talks I have with my pitchers private," Rothschild said. "But a lot of what I tell him is, 'Look at what you've done and what you are.' And not only does he know it but everybody he faces knows it. The track record is there and that's what leads you to believe he will pull out of this and pitch well again."
Said Girardi: "He'll figure it out. There's no doubt in my mind he'll figure it out. I just think he's too smart and too talented not to figure it out."
But Sabathia did not sound entirely convinced. "I've been through bad stretches in my career, but it's tough," he said. "It's just one of those things where you got to keep working, keep going, and believe that you're going to get better."