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Sabathia may be willing, but must wait to return

Oct 1, 2011, 6:58 p.m.
New York Yankees' CC Sabathia walks back to the mound as Detroit Tigers Delmon Young (R) rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during the first inning in Game 1 of their MLB American League Division Series baseball playoffs in New York, September 30, 2011. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A rainy regular season that carried into the playoffs has sent New York's pitching plans awry and left frustrated Yankees fans wondering why ace pitcher CC Sabathia had been consigned to the bench.

Sabathia, a bulky 6-foot-7 inch workhorse pitcher who prides himself on his toughness, threw just 27 pitches on Friday when rain forced a suspension of New York's division series opener against the Detroit Tigers.

The delay marked the 22nd time weather had interrupted a game at Yankee Stadium this soggy season, including nine postponements. But the stakes were much higher with the postseason underway.

Now the Yankees' number one hurler will cool his heels until Monday's Game Three, by order of manager Joe Girardi, underscoring the vagaries that surround the art of handling pitchers in Major League Baseball.

Sabathia said he would lobby Girardi for the chance to pitch in Sunday's Game Two after a day of rest, giving him a chance to start twice in the best-of-five series.

"I want the ball as much as possible," Sabathia said. "We'll just have to wait and see. See what happens."

But Girardi, speaking before Saturday's resumption of the opening game, dismissed any notion that Sabathia would be permitted to make a quick turnaround.

"We talked a little bit last night," Girardi said. "I told him what I was thinking. I was thinking, let's look at Monday, and if you're not ready to go on Monday, you can go on Tuesday."

Girardi reiterated his plan to start veteran Freddy Garcia on Sunday after Ivan Nova took over for Sabathia on Saturday.

While Sabathia appeared to have a relatively light workout on Friday, pitching just two innings, the big left-hander said he did a lot of other work that was unseen by the crowds and the spectators.

"I only threw 27 pitches but I did do a full warmup," conceded Sabathia. "I went through my full pregame warmup. That's about 48 pitches, too."

Once he was sent into the clubhouse after the field was covered by a tarp with the rain pounding down in the Bronx, Sabathia did some more throwing to stay loose so he would be ready to return to the mound if the game was resumed.

"Yeah, about 15 minutes after, I went down to the cage and started playing catch with (catcher Jesus) Montero a little bit," he revealed.

Pitchers are creatures of habit and routine, and the current generation of MLB starting pitchers have grown accustomed to getting four days of rest between each start as clubs use a five-man rotation.

The five-man rotation has been the standard procedure for more than 30 years when teams transitioned from what had been a customary four-man starting staff with pitchers getting three days rest between assignments.

The overhand motion of throwing a baseball is an unnatural action, putting severe pressure on the shoulder. The snapping motion used in delivering curveballs and sliders can wreak havoc on the elbow and pitchers making more than $20 million a season, like Sabathia, are closely watched.

Sabathia has regularly bent the routine before and pitched numerous times on three-days rest but even though he was willing, Girardi preferred a cautious approach.

"To me, it's too much. You don't want to send a guy out there if he's not physically as good as he can be," the manager said. "If you've got a choice of him being 95 percent one day and 80 percent the other day, I'm going to take the 95 percent."

(Editing by Julian Linden)

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