Just when the New York Yankees need CC Sabathia to shore up a shaky rotation, the big left-hander is letting them down.
A reliable ace for so long, Sabathia struggled again Sunday and was chased in the fourth inning of his shortest start since 2009. Consecutive defeats have swelled his ERA to 5.75 following a subpar season last year when his velocity dropped off.
The 33-year-old Sabathia is struggling to adjust, and the timing isn’t good.
“I still think he’s evolving as a different kind of pitcher,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We have to start getting some length out of our starters and get some guys on a roll or it’s going to be difficult for our bullpen.”
Wil Myers hit an inside-the-park homer, his latest big blow against the Yankees, and drove in four runs in Tampa Bay’s 5-1 victory. Erik Bedard (1-1) earned his first win as a starter since last June, and Evan Longoria had an RBI double to help the Rays take two of three in the series.
New York is minus two injured starters in Ivan Nova (season-ending elbow surgery) and Michael Pineda (back), leaving Japanese rookie Masahiro Tanaka as the only steady arm in a rotation that looked formidable just a few weeks ago.
“I feel like I could turn this thing around,” Sabathia said. “I think last year I got down on myself and made myself miserable. This year I’m going to stay positive. I know I can get these guys out.”
Myers knocked in three runs with his homer off the top of the center-field fence and then chased Sabathia with a ringing RBI double in the fourth. Tampa Bay has won eight of its last 10 in the Bronx.
Sabathia (3-4) gave up 10 hits and five runs in 3 2-3 innings, his shortest start since lasting 2 2-3 innings on Oct. 2, 2009, at Tampa Bay. He was late covering first on a potential double play and got booed by the crowd of 41,122.
“I would have booed myself today, too. I wouldn’t want to come to the ballpark and watch that,” said Sabathia, who is 0-3 with a 7.47 ERA at home this season. “It’s frustrating. I just didn’t have the stuff.”
Peyton Manning and his brother, Eli, showed up to watch buddy Derek Jeter play one last time during his final season. The star quarterbacks sat in Jeter’s suite along the first base line but didn’t see much of a show — a slumping Jeter went 0 for 4 and stranded four runners. He was 4 for 30 (.133) on New York’s 3-5 homestand and is hitless in 13 at-bats.
“I concern myself with how I feel,” Jeter said. “I feel good.”
Logan Forsythe, the first batter Sabathia faced, doubled off the wall in left and scored on Longoria’s ground-rule double to right.
“He was out of sync from the get-go,” Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “He didn’t warm up particularly well. I was kind of watching to see what we could do, but there wasn’t much.
“We’ve got some things to work on,” Rothschild added. “It can turn anytime and we’re all thinking that it will.”
With runners at first and second in the third, Myers sent a long drive to right-center beyond the reach of Jacoby Ellsbury. The ball hit the top of the wall near the 385-foot sign, caromed off a leaping Ellsbury and rolled away along the warning track.
Last season’s AL Rookie of the Year jogged out of the batter’s box, then turned it on while rounding first base. He scored standing up without a play after second baseman Yangervis Solarte couldn’t handle a one-hop throw from right fielder Carlos Beltran, who was late backing up.
“We have to take care of that,” Girardi said.
Said Beltran: “I just got caught up watching the play.”
Myers also homered Saturday and had a tiebreaking single in the 14th inning of the series opener Friday night. He has hit safely in all 13 of his games at Yankee Stadium, the longest streak to start a career at the new or old versions of the ballpark.
Myers is batting .375 with four homers and 14 RBIs in seven games against New York this season — compared to .202 with no homers and four RBIs against everyone else. Seven of his 17 career homers have come against the Yankees.
Solarte tied it at 1 with a sacrifice fly in the second, but it was all Rays after that. Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Grant Balfour finished with scoreless relief.
“We didn’t really hit at all,” Yankees cleanup man Mark Teixeira said. “That was a pretty lackluster performance all the way around.”
Alfredo Aceves, called up from the minors Saturday, relieved Sabathia and pitched shutout ball the rest of the way, saving New York’s bullpen.
Aceves’ right leg appeared to be bothering him when Girardi and a trainer went to the mound in the fifth. Aceves threw two warmup pitches and stayed in the game.
Girardi indicated Aceves would have tests, but the right-hander said the doctor told him he’s OK.
“I considered pulling him,” Girardi said. “It seemed to get better as time went on.”
NOTES: RHP David Phelps moves into Pineda’s rotation spot Monday night when the Yankees begin a three-game series at the Los Angeles Angels. Pineda is serving a 10-game suspension for having pine tar on his neck and is expected to miss three to four weeks with a strained muscle in his back near his surgically repaired shoulder. ... Yankees INF Brendan Ryan (spine) is close to coming off the DL, Girardi said. ... The previous player to hit an inside-the-park home run at Yankee Stadium was Jeter against Kansas City on July 22, 2010, according to STATS.