Sabathia will pitch on short rest for the fourth straight start on Thursday as he tries to help the Brewers even their NL division series against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 2.
After the Brewers lost Wednesday’s opener 3-1, they will turn once again to the pitcher who has become their ace. Sabathia, acquired from Cleveland on July 7, went 11-2 with a 2.70 ERA in 17 outings with Milwaukee.
As their first playoff spot since 1982 seemed to be slipping away down the stretch, the Brewers and Sabathia agreed to a plan to start him on three days’ rest three times in Milwaukee’s final eight games. The plan worked, as the 6-foot-7 left-hander has gone 2-1 with a 0.83 ERA in those outings, including Sunday’s four-hitter in a 3-1 win over the Chicago Cubs that clinched the wild card for Milwaukee.
Incredibly, Sabathia has worked longer in each start. On Sept. 20, he lasted 5 2-3 innings and allowed four runs - one earned - in a 4-3 loss at Cincinnati before a seven-inning stint four days later in which he struck out 11 and gave up one run to earn a 4-2 win over Pittsburgh.
That only set the stage for his NL-leading seventh complete game on Sunday.
“I think it’s being way overblown,” said Sabathia, who will be a free agent after this year. “I think if anybody was in the position we were in nine days or ten days ago and they asked them to do it, anybody would do the same thing, healthy enough. So I think it’s people making a lot of something that isn’t that big a deal to me, because I feel fine and I’m healthy.”
Sabathia has never pitched at Citizens Bank Park, and is 1-1 with a 4.97 ERA in two career starts against the Phillies. He is hoping to bounce back from his last taste of the postseason last year with the Indians, as he went 0-2 with a 10.45 ERA in two outings during the AL championship series against Boston— which Cleveland lost in seven games.
“I think you’ll see a more calmer version of me,” Sabathia said. “I think last year I went into the playoffs thinking that I had to throw no-hitters and shutouts every game. I think that’s why you saw me pressing a lot and throwing a lot of pitches and not throwing a lot of strikes.”
On Wednesday, Philadelphia took the first step towards bouncing back from last year’s disappointing postseason in which it was swept by Colorado. Cole Hamels gave up two hits in eight scoreless innings, and closer Brad Lidge worked through a tense ninth inning to secure the win.
The Phillies only had four hits, but one was a two-run double by Chase Utley in the third inning that proved decisive. Philadelphia scored three unearned runs in that frame.
“We hit enough to win the game,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “Maybe tomorrow we’ll get after big CC.”
Milwaukee also finished with four hits. It was a particularly rough game for first baseman Prince Fielder, who was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, including one in the ninth inning as the tying run versus Lidge.
“Obviously, we’re down one game right now with the best pitcher in baseball pitching tomorrow,” Milwaukee manager Dale Sveum said. “So obviously we feel good about ourselves, but obviously we’ve got to swing the bats better and score more than one run.”
Philadelphia is 5-0 at home against Milwaukee this year, including a four-game sweep last month capped by Brett Myers’ two-hitter in a 6-1 win on Sept. 14. Myers, who pitched 1 1-3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen last year in the playoffs, will make his first career postseason start on Thursday.
The right-hander didn’t fare well after last month’s outing against the Brewers, going 0-2 with a 15.12 ERA in his last two starts and failing to last through the fifth inning in either. Myers, though, is happy to be pitching at home, where he went 7-5 with a 3.01 ERA in 14 outings this year.
“I don’t even know what my numbers are,” Myers said. “But I like pitching at home in front of the home crowd. Pitching on the road’s, you know, not that difficult, but definitely pitching at home is a lot more fun to have your home crowd behind you and being able to go out there and perform in front of them.”
Myers is 2-1 with a 1.74 ERA in four career starts versus the Brewers.
It’s possible Milwaukee shortstop J.J. Hardy could be out of the lineup Thursday. Hardy went 0-for-3 in Game 1 to extend his slump to 1-for-18 in his last six games, and he’s 0-for-10 in his career against Myers.