Sabathia ends season with stellar outing

Sabathia ends season with stellar outing

NEW YORK -- The Yankees granted CC Sabathia's request to head back to the mound for one more out as the eighth inning began on Thursday, and once he returned to the dugout with his season's workload complete, pitching coach Larry Rothschild was waiting with a morsel of good news.

Sabathia's 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball in the Yankees' 5-1 win over the Red Sox reduced his ERA to 3.91, his lowest in a single season since 2012. It was a bittersweet stat to absorb on a night that the Yankees were eliminated from postseason play, but it may fuel the big lefty's preparation for next year.

"Larry told me that as I was walking off," Sabathia said. "That's just another plus, to be able to go out and put up that kind of season. For me, it was just about staying healthy."

As Sabathia continues to transition away from power in the latter stages of his career, he departed Yankee Stadium encouraged about what the future can hold. His $25 million option is set to vest for 2017, and the 36-year-old left-hander believes that he will provide valuable innings in exchange.

Sabathia was pleased to make all but two starts this year as he worked 179 2/3 innings, during which he has continued to build confidence with a deeper repertoire that includes a difference-making cutter that he borrowed from Andy Pettitte and then fine-tuned for his own use.

Though Sabathia's record was just 9-12, catcher Brian McCann thought those numbers should have been much better. Thursday's win snapped a string of six winless starts, and Sabathia posted a 2.37 ERA over his final eight outings.

"I thought he pitched great," McCann said. "He missed barrels. That cutter was a game-changer for him. He's got an identity with it. When you pitch at 88-92 [mph] and you sink it and cut it, now it's about pitching to lineups. Now it's about knowing who's hot, who's not."

As evidence, McCann points to Sabathia's average exit velocity, which at 85.4 mph is the second-lowest in baseball among pitchers with 200 or more batted ball events. Only Tyler Anderson of the Rockies has consistently induced weaker contact (85.1 mph), according to Statcast™.

"I think [the cutter] did a lot," manager Joe Girardi said. "I think it helped him get a lot of outs, induce weak contact at times, strikeouts with it. And I also think that the ability to be able to pitch, for the most part, a lot [more] pain-free was a big deal for him."

This year marked a season in which Sabathia returned from treatment for alcohol abuse, which forced him to miss the Yanks' AL Wild Card Game against the Astros. Sabathia set up a support system to handle that area of his life, and on the field, he embraced a bulky brace that relieves the physical pain in his problematic right knee.

"Just knowing that I'm able to pitch and use all my pitches, it's definitely encouraging," Sabathia said.

The Yanks' fate was decided as Sabathia worked in the top of the seventh inning, with the out-of-town scoreboard relaying news of the Orioles' 4-0 victory over the Blue Jays. Sabathia wasn't paying attention then, but he lobbied to go back out for the eighth inning, earning a standing ovation as his 105th pitch retired Travis Shaw on a grounder to first base.

"It means a lot, especially at home," Sabathia said. "You want to finish the season good. I was able to end it on a good note, so I'll work hard this offseason and get ready for Spring Training."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.