TAMPA, Fla. -- CC Sabathia is at the point of his career when he has accepted the facts of 35-year-old athletic life: He's never going to throw 95 mph again. Coming off knee surgery, he's not about to predict another Cy Young Award in his future.
And he certainly isn't going to parrot that annual cliché of spring training -- the one that goes, "I'm in the best shape of my life."
In fact, quite the contrary.
Sabathia, who came to camp last year at least 30 pounds lighter than he had in previous seasons, now says he was too light last season. So in addition to rehabbing his right knee, which underwent an arthroscopic clean-out last July, he also spent part of his offseason replacing what had been lost.
No, not his fastball. Sabathia acknowledged Saturday, the first day of Yankees pitchers and catchers workouts, that he came to camp this year at 305 pounds -- 10 pounds heavier than he was at the end of last season.
"I think I was just trying to find a good weight to play at," Sabathia said after throwing 25 pitches in his first outdoor bullpen session since the injury. "I think last year I came in a little too light. By the end of the year last year, I felt good in where I was at. In the offseason I put on 10 more pounds, and I’ll work that off over the course of the season."
Sabathia also acknowledged that neither the weight gain, nor the knee surgery -- which he opted for, rather than the more drastic route of microfracture surgery -- was likely to restore his diminished fastball, which topped out at around 89 mph last year and sometimes loitered as low as 85.
"This is my 15th year in the big leagues," he said. "So my velocity is what it is."
That means another season of adjustments for the erstwhile ace of the Yankees staff, as he attempts to become a winning pitcher again with a repertoire vastly different from the one that earned him 100 victories and a Cy Young by the time he was 26. On this, Sabathia said he had received advice from Andy Pettitte, who also went from power to finesse pitcher over the course of his 18 big league seasons.
"I just need to make sure that my control is where it needs to be, my two-seamer is good and my changeup is better than it’s been," Sabathia said. "Just making sure that I can spot up and throw the ball where I need to. I’ve been talking to Andy a lot about how he would attack guys later in his career, so I think I’ve got a pretty good plan."
Sabathia said his arm felt good after his bullpen session, in which he threw only fastballs and changeups. And his knee appeared to come out of his first PFP session, in which the pitchers practice fielding bunts and sprinting off the mound to cover first base, in pretty good shape. But he also did not try to hide the fact that the knee, which is on his landing leg, is going to need constant maintenance to stay healthy. Sabathia had a series of stem-cell shots in the knee last year and will continue to have platelet-rich plasma injections throughout the season as needed.
"It's just maintenance with the shots and just trying to make sure I keep the swelling down and stay on top of it with the long flights," he said. "It is kind of one of those things where, it's a bum knee, but it feels good right now, so I'm ready to go."
Sabathia said he has had three injections in the run-up to spring training and now hopes he won't need another one until the second half of the season.
"I think it’s just because it’s degenerative [and] there’s really nothing we can do," he said. "We're not trying to do the microfracture or any kind of major surgery like that right now. Just kind of keep the maintenance and make sure it’s good enough to go out there and play."
It stands to reason that putting additional weight on a compromised knee might not be the best idea, but Sabathia said he actually now feels more like his old big and bad self.
"I lost a bunch of weight drastically, pretty quick, two years ago, and kinda was off-balance, and didn’t know really how my body was working," he said. "So just talking to [team doctor Christopher] Ahmad, and to the trainers, I feel like this is a good weight. I feel a little stronger. I feel my legs under me, being a lot stronger, and being able to push off the mound."
That, he hopes, will translate into a better season than his previous two, in which he went a combined 17-17 with a 5.06 ERA. Last season Sabathia made just eight starts, going 3-4 with a 5.28 ERA, and lost his status as ace to Masahiro Tanaka. Now he is viewed by many as no better than a No. 3 starter for the Yankees.
Asked if he feels he has something to prove, Sabathia said, "Of course I do. Not being able to play last year, and performing horribly in 2013, I have a lot to prove."
But when asked how good he actually thinks he can be this season, Sabathia was as honest, and uncertain, as many Yankees fans are about his future.
"I have no idea, man," he said. "I’m just happy to be here."
Happy, heavy, and he hopes, healthy.