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CC's reinvention is complete, for now

CC Sabathia looks and feels like a new pitcher this spring. Will he be an ace again? Jonathan Dyer/USA TODAY Sports

BRADENTON, Fla. -- It's always difficult to know what is real and what is illusion in spring training, which numbers to believe and which to disregard, when a player is telling the truth and when he is really telling the truth.

The numbers on CC Sabathia's line today against the Pittsburgh Pirates -- four innings pitched, no runs and three hits, all singles -- and his numbers all spring -- 3-1, 21 IP, 13 H, 16 K's, 3 BBs, a 1.29 ERA and 0.762 WHIP -- are far more impressive than the numbers on the radar gun, which never went higher than 92 all spring and never broke 90 today.

Still, what are you going to believe, a radar gun or your eyes?

Sabathia is getting outs, and his opponents are getting very few runs. Does it really matter how hard he is throwing the baseball?

The answer is maybe.

When Sabathia has the command of his slider, changeup and occasional cutter the way he did against the Pirates today, inducing ground balls rather than swings-and-misses, the speed of his fastball really doesn't matter, because he's not relying on it to get outs.

But on the days that his off-speed stuff is not as sharp, well, a 90 mph fastball is simply not going to fly, especially in the American League East. Then again, yes it will fly. Over buildings.

But that is a concern for another day. Sabathia wrapped up his first full spring training with a new body, a new repertoire and perhaps a new acceptance of the kind of pitcher he is now, at almost 34 years old and with 2,700 innings on the odometer in his left arm.

He is happy with the way he performed and with the way he feels, which is in marked contrast to how he felt at this time last season.

“I just didn’t have the stuff last year," he said. "We keep talking about last year, last year. My stuff wasn’t the same. I wasn’t as strong. I didn’t have any life on my fastball. I just wasn’t the same guy. We’ll see this year.”

Of course, like all players heading into a new season, Sabathia insisted he felt fine at the end of spring training in 2013, despite coming off elbow surgery and his first round of significant weight loss. Today, Sabathia admitted he really didn't feel all that great after all.

“Of course I was concerned," he said. "A combination of different things. The elbow. Weight loss. I didn’t know that the weight loss was going to affect me that much. There were just some games that I was short, just didn’t have the stuff. I think my stuff is a lot better than it was last year.”

Joe Girardi said he had no idea Sabathia was less than 100 percent confident in his abilities last spring. "He never said that to us," Girardi said.

The possibility is that it took the better part of a year for Sabathia to accept the hard fact that he could no longer throw a 95 mph fastball and that he would have to adjust to a new way of pitching.

“I’m sure it takes any player some time to make changes and accept what they are,” Girardi said. "I thought near the end of last year he started to transition, accept it and understand what he had to do to be successful. I think he’s carried it over this spring.”

CC Sabathia

CC Sabathia

#52 SP
New York Yankees

2013 STATS

  • GM32
  • W14

  • L13

  • BB65

  • K175

  • ERA4.78

Sabathia seems to have come to grips with the reality that he is not the pitcher he was 10 years ago, or even three years ago, when he won 19 games and for a third straight year found himself in the thick of the conversation for the AL Cy Young, an award he won in 2007. And he knows he doesn't like the pitcher he was in 2013.

"I'll never forget how bad I pitched last year," he said. "I just put it in my memory bank and make sure I don't get caught up in some of the things I did last year."

Like going, by his own admission, "slider-happy" and ignoring his changeup, a potent weapon for him in 2009, when he helped lead the Yankees to a World Series championship. Girardi theorized that last season Sabathia was overthrowing his changeup, causing it to cut on him, a view Sabathia disputed.

"I don't even think I threw it enough to overthrow it, you know?" Sabathia said. "I just kind of lost it. I didn't have a feel for it. I can't tell you about last year's changeup because I didn't really have one."

He has one now, and relying on it is akin to a butcher trading his cleaver for a scalpel, a wrecker trading his sledgehammer for a chisel or a painter swapping his roller for set of charcoals.

That is what Sabathia is trying to do now, and judging by 21 spring training innings, he may be on the way to accomplishing it. If nothing else, he seems to have come to the realization what he is now is not what he was then. And he is certainly not ready to accept that what he is now can't still be an effective, and even occasionally dominant, major league pitcher.

That's the narrative of this spring training, and until proven otherwise, let's assume it is an accurate one.

"I don't think it's going to change the way I go at hitters," he said. "I'm still going to be the same guy. I'm going to attack the strike zone, try to get some swings early in the count and just see how it goes. I am transitioning to an older pitcher, I guess. That's also where this is my 11th or 10th Opening Day start. That's a lot. That makes me feel old. It just is what it is. The stuff I've got, I'll go out and compete with."