NEW YORK -- In what could be the final blow to the Yankees' thin playoff hopes, left-hander CC Sabathia has been shut down with a Grade 2 hamstring strain and will not make his final start of the season.
"We have hopes and beliefs that next year will be a better year for him and for us," general manager Brian Cashman said. "There's no point in having him make his last start with an injury."
Sabathia was to have started Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium against the Tampa Bay Rays, one of four teams the Yankees trail in the AL wild-card hunt. After losing 2-1 to the San Francisco Giants on Sunday, the Yankees were four games out of the final AL playoff spot with six games to play.
Cashman said Sabathia suffered the injury in the second inning of Friday night's 5-1 victory over the Giants at Yankee Stadium, a win secured by Alex Rodriguez's record-setting 24th career grand slam in the seventh inning. Despite the injury, Sabathia pitched into the eighth inning, allowing one run on seven hits, and afterward proclaimed himself ready to help the Yankees run the table over their final eight games.
"Why couldn't we? Anything can happen," he said then. "You saw what happened tonight. I've got a start in five days, and I'll be ready for that one."
But Sabathia informed the Yankees of the injury, and an MRI on Saturday morning revealed the extent of the strain. According to a team media release, the injury requires six to eight weeks to heal.
"No one wanted to throw any negativity out there while we were fighting for a playoff spot," Cashman said to explain why the team didn't reveal Sabathia's injury sooner. "But now we have to line up our pitching rotation for this week, so we have no choice."
Sabathia was to have pitched the middle game of the crucial three-game series, between Hiroki Kuroda, who pitched like the ace of the staff for the first three months of the season, and Ivan Nova, the Yankees' most reliable starter down the stretch. Now, Sabathia's start will likely be taken by Phil Hughes, whose turn was to have been skipped in order for the Yankees to throw their best arms at the Rays in a last-ditch effort to make the playoffs.
For three seasons, Sabathia was the unquestioned ace of the staff after joining the Yankees before the 2009 season and was a serious contender for the AL Cy Young Award in 2010 (when he went 21-7) and 2011 (19-8). But his past two seasons have been injury-plagued -- he underwent knee surgery after the 2011 season, spent two stints on the disabled list in 2012 (groin strain and elbow soreness), and underwent an elbow cleanout last winter to remove a bone spur.
This year, Sabathia, 33, lost significant velocity on his fastball in spring training and struggled all season, posting the highest ERA of his career at 4.78 and lowest win total since 2006 with 14. He also allowed a career-high 27 home runs.
"He's had an interesting year, to say the least," Cashman said. "The home runs really killed him. But we think he's retained a number of abilities that should allow him to pitch at or near the top of our rotation next year. "
The Yankees extended Sabathia's original five-year, $122 million contract after the 2011 season. He is signed for three more seasons at a guaranteed $71 million. He also holds a vesting option for the 2017 season at $25 million that kicks in as long he stays healthy enough to pitch through the 2016 season.