TAMPA, Fla. — CC Sabathia said he heard the jokes people had been making ever since photos of his slimmed-down physique started hitting the information superhighway. Some of the pics made Sabathia appear almost ill.
"I thought it was hilarious," Sabathia, not laughing, said Friday. "I didn’t think people cared that much, but whatever. Everybody was, like, mad at me. That’s why, when I went on [a TV interview], I brought Cap'n Crunch with me just to let them know 'I’m still eating.' Just not as much, not two boxes at a time."
Sabathia was laughing at that point, though what prompted him to lose 40 pounds since the start of last season — and follow up with recent training that's toned his body into its startling condition — was something serious. Dead serious.
"I decided to lose the weight to be around, to be around my kids," Sabathia said. "And I had a cousin pass away that was pretty young from heart disease two Decembers ago. It was really about that."
Standing 6-foot-7, he always could handle extra weight better than many others. Now that he's 33 years old, it's not as easy. Sabathia weighed as much as 315 pounds, he said, but checked in at 275 at Yankees camp Friday when pitchers and catchers reported. He hasn't been that light "since sometime in Cleveland, probably," Sabathia said.
Sabathia initially lost the weight going on a crash diet — "cutting carbs" and ferociously working out, probably with cardio-related exercises. As with a lot of people who are eager to drop pounds, the process was reckless. His body wasn't ready to do that and play baseball.
"I probably did it the wrong way, going into a baseball season last year," Sabathia said. "I think it was losing that much weight and trying to play a professional sport. I was joking [that] I felt like the ‘Biggest Loser’ last year, where I had lost a lot of weight and wasn’t physically ready to go out and play."
The results were disastrous. He didn't feel the power behind his pitches, so he often didn't finish them. He'd frequently be fatigued "by the fourth of fifth inning" of his starts. His confidence, usually a positive, waned. In all, Sabathia had the worst season of his career by far, finishing with a 4.78 ERA and leading the league in earned runs allowed. He gave up a career-high 28 home runs. Worst of all for him, the Yankees missed the playoffs by 6 1/2 games.
"Nobody wants to go through that again," Sabathia said. "It sticks with me a lot. Being disappointed and not being able to help this team win. I felt like, if I could have been a little better, we could have made the playoffs. I blamed myself a lot in the offseason but now I’m over it and ready to go."
It's going to be a different season for the Yankees regardless, with Alex Rodriguez suspended and absent, Mariano Rivera retired and Derek Jeter on the way to pasture. Still, with additions such as Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury and others, Sabathia expects to be in the hunt.
"If I can do what I do, then I think we’ll be fine," Sabathia said. "I always feel like I’ve got something to prove, but even more this year."
He might not throw "96 or 97" mph anymore, but Sabathia has learned to pitch at slower speeds, he said. And having more strength will help him no matter what the pitch velocity is. His first workout included a long-toss drill with pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Sabathia's throwing is ahead of schedule as it relates to 2013, when he came into camp recovering from cleanup surgery on his right elbow. He started throwing Oct. 9, he said. A season ago, he didn't start until December. Sabathia expects to have stamina that he didn't in 2013.
One reporter asked Sabathia if he were superstitious about being leaner after being so successful as a big guy. You know how some players are about routines.
"I think being a fat guy isn’t the same as wearing the same glove," Sabathia said. "You know what I mean?"
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