CC Sabathia throws bullpen session, aims to return next Friday

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UPDATE: According to Jack Curry of YES Network, today’s bullpen session went off without a hitch. Sabathia is scheduled to throw another one Tuesday, but he was “emphatic” in saying he’ll return next Friday.

11:45 AM: CC Sabathia landed on the disabled list last week due to left elbow soreness, but he’s aiming to return as soon as he’s eligible next Friday against the Indians. He still has some hurdles to cross before being cleared to return, but the early signs are encouraging.

Sabathia threw off flat ground without incident for the second straight day yesterday. The big southpaw told WFAN’s Sweeney Murti that he’s scheduled to throw a bullpen session today for the first time since being placed on the disabled list. According to Steven Miller and Ethan Asofsky of MLB.com, Yankees manager Joe Girardi isn’t ready to commit to a specific date, but he expects him to return at some point next weekend.

“I haven’t really nailed down that that’s the date,” Girardi said. “We have to see how the bullpens go and how he feels. That way I have a little leeway for the second day or the third day [of the series against the Indians], whenever it is. Let’s just see how his bullpens go before I give an exact date.”

Sabathia, 32, is 12-3 with a 3.56 ERA and 140/35 K/BB ratio over 141 2/3 innings in 20 starts this season. He had a previous stint on the disabled list in late June due to a left groin strain.

A.J. Hinch: “We’ll use every pitcher in Game 7 if we have to”

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It’s not entirely clear why the Astros threw Ken Giles into the ninth inning of Game 6 of the ALCS. With a six-run advantage and the bottom half of the Yankees’ lineup due up, pushing the series to its seven-game capacity looked like a sure bet. Giles may be one of Houston’s better bullpen arms, but he’s not their only option, and it would have made more sense to keep him fresh for a do-or-die Game 7 on Saturday night.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a sure bet when it comes to postseason baseball. That’s more or less what Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch had to say after the game, telling reporters that he had envisioned a quick three outs from his closer as they tried to pull back from the brink of elimination. “We didn’t have the luxury of limping into that inning,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen how these guys can explode in these innings.”

It’s not difficult to recall the Yankees’ explosive drive in the eighth inning of Game 4, when they exploited the holes in Houston’s ‘pen and evened the series with Gary Sanchez‘s go-ahead double off of Giles. Back home in Minute Maid Park, however, there was a slightly different feel to the eighth and ninth innings of Game 6. Jose Altuve led off the eighth with a solo home run, followed by Alex Bregman‘s two-run double and Evan Gattis‘ sac fly. In the ninth, Giles labored through a 23-pitch outing to lock down the win, handing out a base hit and a seven-pitch walk before eventually whiffing Chase Headley on three straight pitches for the last out.

So, while Hinch’s decision to lean on Giles in Game 6 may have felt wasteful, his concerns were not entirely unfounded. He’s prepared to roll with the same strategy during Saturday’s series finale, too, leaving nothing on the table as the Astros battle for their first World Series showdown since 2005. According to Dallas Keuchel, that means all hands on deck — except for Justin Verlander, whose four wins, 24 strikeouts and 1.46 postseason ERA have gotten the Astros as far as he could possibly be expected to take them. “No pitcher is going to be in the dugout,” said Keuchel. “They’re all going to be in the bullpen, myself included. Any way we can help out, we’re trying to get to the World Series, the same way the Yankees are, and that’s a nice feeling to have.”

Does that mean Giles will be available for a Game 7 appearance? Stranger things have happened. Joe Sheehan notes that the right-hander has pitched in back-to-back days 13 times this year, though he’s never thrown as many as 23 pitches on Day 1. Granted, he likely doesn’t have enough left in the tank for another 20+ pitch run on Saturday, but with the World Series on the line, any help he can offer will be invaluable.