There was a reason that CC Sabathia was so despondent Tuesday night when the pain in his right knee forced him to leave his start after only three innings.
Sabathia feared it might be the end of his career.
"Quite honestly, yes — that's what I was thinking," said Sabathia, the New York Yankees left-hander who has a 9-5 record with a 4.05 ERA. "I was in a lot of pain, and I just felt like I was letting the team down, and I was disappointed in myself for letting my knee get to this point again. So there was just a lot going through my head."
The Yankees placed Sabathia, a 37-year-old left-hander, on the disabled list Friday, but he said that after receiving cortisone injections and stem-cell and platelet-rich plasma treatments this week, he hoped to miss only one start.
Jordan Montgomery was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and he will take Sabathia's turn Sunday night against the Boston Red Sox's ace, Chris Sale.
Sabathia, whose seven-year, $161 million contract expires after this season, has made the transition from power pitcher to one who relies on finesse, but lately he has had to do more than get by without the intimidating fastball of his youth. He has also had to cope with a degenerating right knee, which bears the force of the 300 pounds he can put behind each delivery.
The past two seasons, Sabathia has taken to wearing a knee brace, and he has also undergone a series of injections to keep inflammation in check. In October, he had surgery that was described by general manager Brian Cashman as a routine "cleanup." Sabathia then had weekly injections through January.
The Yankees' doctor, Christopher Ahmad, along with Sabathia and the trainer Steve Donahue, mapped out a plan to maintain the knee with injections, but Sabathia did not get a cortisone shot during the All-Star break because he reported that the knee felt good.
"It felt like every time we checked, no swelling, no symptoms," said Sabathia, who missed three weeks beginning in mid June because of a hamstring injury. "We didn't feel the need to do anything."
Now, he said, he regrets the decision to stray from the plan.
"I know what my knee is, and I felt like I let it creep up on me," he said. "That's just disappointing and it kind of upsets me. I feel like I'm having a good season and contributing and helping the team win. For something that I know can get as bad as it got, I should be on top of it."
Because a magnetic resonance imaging exam showed no further damage to the knee, Manager Joe Girardi said he believes that if Sabathia can throw a bullpen session — probably Sunday — without experiencing any discomfort, he could return to the rotation soon.
"This is something he's been dealing with for a couple years," Girardi said. "He's usually been able to run off a number of starts after he's taken a rest and had some treatment and medicine. Once we get him back healthy, I don't anticipate it being start to start, me holding my breath. It's just getting it cleaned up, in a sense, get the pain out of there, and I think he'd be good to go for a while."