The Yankees lead, 2-1, in their American League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Though they are in no position to become smug, they are using a move -- starting a pitcher on short rest in the postseason -- that is widely seen as just the opposite. The reason for doubt is simple: The record clearly suggests it rarely works.
Since 1995, the advent of the Wild Card era, starting pitchers have worked on short rest -- three days or less -- 85 times in the postseason. They are 20-34 with a 4.65 ERA.
But the Yankees are not concerned with the broad historical sweep of those numbers. They are looking at specific short-rest history, that of CC Sabathia, the ace of their staff. It is Sabathia who will be asked to go on short rest in Game 4 of the ALCS at 7:57 p.m. ET on FOX on Tuesday against the Angels.
Down the stretch in 2008, trying to pitch the Milwaukee Brewers into the postseason, Sabathia made three September starts on short rest, compiling a 2-1 record with a remarkable 0.83 ERA. However, all this work may have caught up with him when he faced the Phillies in a National League Division Series game, once again on short rest. He gave up five runs in 3 2/3 innings and took the loss.
LONG ODDS ON SHORT REST
But the Yankees believed that he has been used with more discretion this year than he was in 2008, and thus, has more left in the tank than he did last October. Sabathia threw 253 innings in the 2008 regular season. He was still an innings-eater this season, but he was down to a more manageable 230 frames.
"The thing about CC is he didn't have the amount of innings that he had the last two years in the regular season," manager Joe Girardi said. "We slowed him down. He's been able to have extra rest, and that's why we feel good about it. We wouldn't ask him to do something that we didn't think he was capable of or that he had [no] chance to be successful at.
"It was very important for us to try to slow him down in the month of September, because we knew that his workload could be heavy in October and November. He had a long rest in between his Game 1 against Minnesota and Game 1 against the Angels. So we feel he's rested and more than capable."
Sabathia himself is not particularly awestruck by the concept of working on short rest. When he was asked on Monday what he had to change in his approach he responded: "Not too much. I mean, you know that going on short rest that you're not going to have like your best fastball. So I've just got to stay under control and make sure my delivery is good, and make sure I go out there and throw strikes."
As far as changing his work between starts, on short rest Sabathia simply doesn't throw his usual bullpen session. This is no big deal to him, either.
"That's the only thing," he said. "I didn't throw a bullpen [Sunday], I just came in and played catch. But I felt fine. Arm feels good. This late in the season, you know, you tend to cut down on bullpens anyways. So it doesn't really make a difference."
It was not that long ago that three days' rest was the standard for Major League pitchers. They threw many more innings than the current crop of pitchers. They threw many more complete games. And yet, they did not seem to have as many debilitating arm injuries.
You can come to one of two conclusions regarding this apparent paradox. Either earlier pitchers built up enough arm strength to work longer and more often without ill effect or the pitchers of this generation have been coddled out of an opportunity to build up stamina. Or both.
Sabathia is a mountain of a man, who has established himself as more durable than his contemporaries. His ability to pitch successfully on short rest should not be particularly surprising. On the other side, lefty Scott Kazmir goes for the Angels. He'll be pitching on eight days' rest, which means that if he doesn't pitch well in Game 4, some people will be moved to ask him if he was harmed by the long spell of inactivity.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.