Tuesday, June 21, 2005

C.C. gets a "D"

If the Cleveland Indians are ever forced to play a game against the devil's minions for my soul, C.C. Sabathia will not start that game. I will make sure of it.
At a time when the Indians could just about spin straw into gold, C.C. managed to find a way to foul things up and end the Tribe's nine-game winning streak Monday night against Boston.
The offense bailed C.C. out in his last start against Colorado, when he put the Indians in a 6-2 hole. Jhonny Peralta and Aaron Boone hit game-tying and game-winning homers, respectively, as Cleveland pulled the game out, 7-6 in 11 innings.
Last night was far worse against a far better offensive team than the Rockies. Against the Red Sox, C.C. coughed up a career-high nine runs on nine hits in five innings. Despite C.C.'s career-worst outing, the offense nearly bailed him out again. Indeed, David Riske gave up the losing run in the form of a solo homer to Johnny Damon in the ninth. Cleveland lost 10-9 with the tying run at second base.
But it should never have gotten to that. This pitching staff (and offense) is supposed to be built so the Indians seldom, if ever, lose on nights when they are fortunate enough to score nine runs.
C.C. sometimes feels like a holdover from the days of high-octane Tribe offenses. The days of Dave Burba and Charles Nagy on the mound, when a 4.85 ERA could still yield a 14-7 record due to fantastic run support.
That's not the case anymore. Even though the offense is grooving right now, realistically, the pitching has to hold the other team somewhere under six runs at the high end to give the Indians a chance to win.
The days of winning 12-10 slugfests on a weekly basis are over. It's not that C.C. never got that memo, it's just that his abilities lend themselves to giving up hits, sometimes in bunches.
C.C. throws a mid-90s fastball, but he is really not a strikeout pitcher. Sure, he gets his occasional nine-strikeout game, but usually his strikeout total rests around Monday's five.
C.C. is a fly ball pitcher. Many pitchers are fly ball pitchers, but C.C. has the added danger of having a straight fastball. He must spot the fastball well to be effective, like 98 percent of major league pitchers. But when your fastball doesn't do much besides go fast, you run the risk of putting it on a tee, especially to right-handed hitters if you are a lefty.
Manny Ramirez did just that last night. I don't know if he gave up the three-run homer to Ramirez on a fastball, and I know he was jammed on his chalk-shot bloop double. But that broken-bat double reeked of C.C. trying to pound Ramirez inside after leaving a fat, juicy pitch out over the plate on the homer.
C.C. is beginning to mature. He throws more off-speed stuff, to a solid degree of effectiveness. But I can't help but think that big, lumbering 6'-7" frame of Sabathia doesn't lend itself well to command or movement on pitches.
Every other Tribe starter, be it Jake Westbrook, Cliff Lee, Kevin Millwood or Scott Elarton has some kind of good movement on at least a couple of pitches. Good movement gives a pitcher more leeway in spotting pitches. They make pitches harder to center on for a hitter.
Those pitchers can still get rocked (reference Westbrook against the Tigers this year), but more pitches, and more movement on pitches, gives a pitcher more weapons to go to in his arsenal, important because not every pitch will work every night.
If C.C.'s fastball is not cooperating, like on Monday, about the only other thing he has to go to is a work-in-progress change-up and a mediocre breaking ball.
C.C. is still an effective pitcher more times than not. His ERA took a beating Monday, but it was 3.91 heading into the game.
I just wish the Indians and the media pundits would stop crowning C.C. the Tribe's "staff ace." Staff aces are overrated as it is, there are are only a handful of true "aces" out there, and I'd rather have a rotation like what the Indians have, a solid five-man unit with no major drop-off points.
Let's look at C.C. for what he is: a young pitcher who appears to be on an average learning curve. He's not a prodigy. He doesn't have mind-blowing stuff. He's a solid workhorse, still prone to getting roughed up, who will probably peak as a good mid-rotation pitcher.
If you absolutely must crown a staff ace, go bother Lee or Millwood.