Starters must step up while Sabathia mends

It was not that long ago that Yankees manager Joe Girardi spoke of CC Sabathia’s value during a stretch run because of all the pitchers on the staff, especially in the rotation, he had by far the most experience with dealing with the pressure of that time of the season.

There is a good chance now, however, that Sabathia’s presence as the Yankees head into September will be nothing more than as a consultant or cheerleader. The 6-foot-7 lefthander was placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday because of inflammation in his right knee that cut short his start Sunday to 2 2/3 innings in an eventual loss to the Indians that knocked the Yankees out of first place in the American League East when the Blue Jays bounced back from a 5-1, first-inning deficit to beat the Angels, 12-5.

Sabathia sounded confident that he would be able to pitch again this season, but the reality is that he has pitched all season on a damaged knee that has undergone two surgeries and finally gave out after two drainings and a cortisone injection over the past two months.

What this does to Girardi’s plans of using a six-man rotation to give an extra day’s rest to his starters is to scrap them. “We will not need a sixth starter every turn through the rotation,” Girardi said.

The Yankees re-signed lefthander Chris Capuano to a major-league contract after his third designation for assignment over the past four weeks. The lefthander could be used as a spot starter at certain junctures.

Adam Warren, who began the season in the rotation but has done a splendid job in late-innings relief, will remain in the bullpen. So, too, will Bryan Mitchell, who is scheduled to pitch a simulated game Tuesday in his first time back on the mound since Aug. 17 when he sustained a broken nose after being struck in the face by a line drive off the bat of the Twins’ Eduardo Nunez.

Girardi credited Sabathia, who has a 4-9 record and 5.27 ERA, with gutting his way through 24 starts this season with that knee.

“He is a real competitor and was extremely gutsy,” Girardi said. “He took the ball every fifth or sixth day and gave us everything he had. Now the other guys are going to have to step up.”

The stepping up had to begin Monday night with Nathan Eovaldi taking an eight-game winning streak against an Astros club that is leading the AL West by four games and just won three games in a row against the Dodgers, including victories over Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in the last two games.

Mark Teixeira, still hobbled by a bruised right shin, took batting practice for the first time since hurting the leg a week ago, and had no problems swinging the bat but is still unable to run at full strength. Teixeira said he could be available as a pinch hitter, but Girardi may wait to use Tex in the field until Friday night when the Yankees open a three-game series at Atlanta.

The set against the Braves and the second Subway Series Sept. 18-20 at Citi Field against the Mets present Girardi the question of whether to use Alex Rodriguez in the field in preparation for the possibility of the Yankees playing in the World Series.

A-Rod has been exclusively a designated hitter most of the year. He started two games at third base and one at first base but has played only two innings in the field (one at third, one at first) since April 27. Girardi said he has no plans to start Rodriguez in inter-league competition but added, “If we have to double switch in the National League ballparks, then all bets are off.”

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