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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Slimmed-down CC feels he can succeed

After struggling last season, ace spent offseason getting into better shape

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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

TAMPA, Fla. -- First things first. As a matter of fact, CC Sabathia does look different. Yes, dramatically different.

Let's go to the tote board. Sabathia weighed in at 275 pounds on Friday morning, which by his estimate is the lowest he has been since his days with the Indians.

Sabathia has weighed as much as 315 pounds during his 13 big league seasons. However, he does not look gaunt or frail. Sabathia simply looks leaner, stronger and healthier.

Incidentally, Sabathia appreciates your concern. That is, he's aware his weight loss incited an Internet firestorm.

You can imagine all the directions that discussion went.

"I thought it was hilarious," Sabathia said.

Sabathia was inspired to lose weight when a cousin died of heart disease in December 2012.

"To be around my family, to be around my kids," Sabathia said. "It was really about that. I just took it upon myself. I probably did it the wrong way -- going into a baseball season last year. But I'm ready for this year."

Sabathia was under 300 pounds by the beginning of Spring Training a year ago and got all the way down to around 280 at one point during the season. And that's where he believes the problems began.

Sabathia's 4.78 ERA was the highest of his career by miles. He won 14 times, his lowest total since 2006. Sabathia's 175 strikeouts were his fewest since 2006 as well. He allowed 112 earned runs, tops in the Majors.

"I feel like I lost a little bit of power last year," the Yankees' ace said. "I think it was just losing that much weight and trying to play a professional sport. I felt like the 'Biggest Loser' last year. I lost a lot of weight, but I just wasn't physically ready to go out and play."

Sabathia's fastball velocity averaged just 91.1 mph, the lowest of his career, according to Fangraphs.com. That's a significant drop from 2012 (92.3 mph) and an even more significant drop from 2009, his first season with the Yanks (94.2 mph).

Sabathia believes that drop could be attributed not to almost 3,000 big league innings, but the effect of quick weight loss. He believes an offseason of conditioning, diet and nutrition, plus a full throwing and workout program, will allow him to get some of that lost velocity back. Even if it doesn't, Sabathia feels he can succeed. Perhaps more important is his stamina.

"By the fourth, fifth inning, I was usually tired," Sabathia said. "That was something we worked on this offseason. Just making sure I'm ready to go out and pitch a full game."

Sabathia missed his final start of 2013 with a strained hamstring, but because he wasn't rehabbing from surgery, he got right back to work on Oct. 9.

"I've been working pretty much the whole offseason to be ready," Sabathia said. "I started throwing the football in October and carried that all the way through to December, when I picked up a baseball. So I've been throwing all offseason. That's normally what I do, so I feel good about it."

Back to that weight loss. If Sabathia had established himself as one of baseball's best, toughest and most durable pitchers while weighing more than 300 pounds, why change? Aren't baseball players superstitious about this stuff?

"I think being a fat guy is a little different than wearing the same glove," Sabathia said. "We'll see this year. I feel like I did two years ago, a lot stronger. My arm feels a lot better. I just feel healthy."

Maybe you've heard that the Yankees went on a spending spree, committing around $500 million to add center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, right fielder Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-hander Masahiro Tanaka.

Still, there are unknowns. How good will Derek Jeter be in his final season? Likewise Mark Teixeira and Michael Pineda, both coming off injuries?

If the Yanks get good news across the board, they're almost certainly good enough to compete with the Red Sox and Rays in the American League East.

Yet a lot of it is about Sabathia and his ability to be a true No. 1 starter, a guy who wants the game on his shoulders in the biggest situations.

Sabathia admits his confidence was shaken at times by last season's struggles. He also admits that he feels a personal responsibility about letting the Yankees down.

"It sticks with me a lot," Sabathia said. "Just being disappointed and not being able to help this team win. I feel like if I could have been a little better, we might have made the playoffs. I blamed myself for a long time in the offseason. Now I'm over it and ready to go this year."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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