Asked Friday whether he believed Sabathia's season was over, manager Joe Girardi said: ''I think that's about fair to say.''
The six-time All-Star left-hander has been out with a degenerative cartilage problem in his right knee since mid-May, when his ERA reached a career-high 5.28. The Yankees were targeting a post-All-Star-break return for Sabathia, who had begun a rehabilitation assignment.
In his second start, Wednesday for Double-A Trenton, Sabathia was hit hard: five hits, five runs and one walk while striking out two in 3 2-3 innings. The next morning, the 33-year-old woke up with swelling in the joint.
An MRI test on Thursday didn't reveal any new damage. Sabathia will be examined on July 14 by Dr. James Andrews before the next step is determined, Girardi said, but microfracture surgery is possible. Previously, Sabathia had an operation on the knee in October 2010 to repair a small meniscus cartilage tear. The microfracture procedure requires far more recovery time, though.
''That's a surgery a lot of players don't want to hear when they need to have it,'' Girardi said.
The manager even acknowledged the possibility that Sabathia might have thrown his last pitch for the Yankees, as dire of a scenario that sounds like.
''I think it's too early to predict that, but whenever you have degenerative issues that cause surgery or things like that, there's always a little question there,'' Girardi said.
Despite his 6-foot-7, 285-pound frame, Sabathia has been remarkably durable, logging at least 28 starts and 180 innings every season of his career. He reached 230 innings or more in five different years, including in 2007 when he won the American League Cy Young Award for Cleveland.
Sabathia is in his sixth season with the Yankees. He gave up 10 home runs in 46 innings over his eight starts before landing on the disabled list on May 11.
After signing a seven-year, $161 million deal as a free agent prior to the 2009 season, Sabathia had his contract extended in 2011 by one year and $30 million. Making $23 million this season, Sabathia is scheduled to earn $23 million in 2015 and $25 million in 2016. The Yankees have a $25 million option on his deal for 2017 with a $5 million buyout.
The Yankees have also been missing injured starters Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda, forcing them to go with a makeshift rotation including Vidal Nuno, David Phelps and rookie Chase Whitley. Nova had season-ending elbow surgery in April. Pineda has been out with a shoulder muscle problem and is not expected back until August.