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Another off night for Sabathia

Another off night for Sabathia

CLEVELAND -- The home fans have been booing C.C. Sabathia at Progressive Field lately.

He takes no offense.

"I'd boo myself," Sabathia said. "If you deserve it, what can you say?"

Plenty can be said about Sabathia's shocking struggles in his first four starts of '08. But little can be offered in the way of solutions. And that's precisely what provoked the ire of Sabathia in the wake of another humbling defeat, this time at the hands of the division-rival Tigers.

Sabathia, giving new meaning to the term "starting nine," gave up nine runs for the second straight start, and the Indians fell to an ugly, 13-2 loss to the Tigers in front of a sparse crowd.

The reigning American League Cy Young Award champ claims to know exactly what's gone wrong for him in the course of putting up an 0-3 record and 13.50 ERA.

It's not an injury. Sabathia said he feels fine.

It's not a dip in velocity, or malfunction in mechanics that would lead one to believe that the 241 innings he pitched last season have caught up to him.

It's not the looming distraction of contract negotiations, because he called those off two months ago, and, he insists, he's not pondering his pending free agency.

The answer, rather, is a simple -- and, the Indians hope, correctable -- lack of command of his cut fastball and changeup on the inside part of the plate against right-handed hitters. And the Tigers, of course, had nine of them in their lineup on this night.

"Usually, it's something mechanical or in my delivery," Sabathia said. "But it's not [this time]. I look at the video, and I haven't been [establishing] the inside part of the plate to right-handed hitters. I have no feel for my cutter. Last year, I did a good job commanding both sides of the plate, and this year I haven't done that."

The biggest problem here for the Indians, who, with this loss, joined the Tigers in the AL Central basement at 5-10, is that this is not a problem likely to be corrected in a single bullpen session or start.

"Can it be entirely fixed in one start? No," manager Eric Wedge said. "Can he do a lot better in one start? Yes."

For four innings Wednesday, Sabathia was actually doing a little better. Yes, he negated the one-run lead afforded to him by David Dellucci's first-inning solo shot off Armando Galarraga by giving up a two-run homer to Miguel Cabrera in the second and a one-run single to Cabrera in the third.

But remember, this is a work in progress, and Sabathia, despite the 3-1 deficit on the scoreboard, still found himself working ahead in the count, for the most part.

"He was headed in the right direction early," Wedge said.

Sabathia, though, veered way off course in the fifth. The Tigers loaded the bases on walks to set up Cabrera's two-run single. Carlos Guillen's groundball single reloaded the bases, and Edgar Renteria torched a first-pitch fastball out to left-center field for a grand slam to make it 9-1, and knock Sabathia out of the game.

"I've pitched in four games," Sabathia said, "and I haven't given the team a chance to win yet. From my standpoint, as one of the leaders on the team, that's unacceptable."

While Sabathia's first two outings of the season were a concern, his last two have been a mess. He has allowed 18 earned runs on 20 hits with seven walks and five strikeouts in just 7 1/3 innings.

Sabathia's walk total for the season is now an unsightly 14 in only 18 innings of work. Last season, he walked just 37 batters in 241 innings and didn't walk his 14th batter until May 31, in his 12th start.

"I know he's frustrated," Wedge said. "He's going to have to go out there and get his head straight, have a good bullpen and feel good going into his next start."

The Indians, as a unit, had little to feel good about after this loss. Not only did their ace get tattooed again, but their bats continued to flounder, even when they were facing a pitcher freshly plucked from Triple-A Toledo and making just his second-ever Major League start.

Dellucci's homer was the only hit allowed by Galarraga in 6 2/3 innings of work. The Indians didn't put a runner in scoring position until the seventh.

"We didn't have very many good at-bats," Wedge said. "And we gave at-bats away, which is really what bothers me. I don't have any tolerance for that at all. It wasn't a very good day."

The fifth wasn't a very good inning for the Tribe. After Sabathia exited, the Tigers put two on against reliever Tom Mastny. Placido Polanco hit a fielder's choice to shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who fired home. Catcher Victor Martinez, thinking the bases were loaded, stepped on home plate for a force out that didn't exist, and Marcus Thames slid in for the run.

"A mental lapse," Wedge said. "That's something that can't happen. No excuse."

Sabathia himself offers no excuses for his poor performance in the early going. He said he's not feeling any added pressure, given his contract status and the Indians' expectations.

"As far as pressure goes, I've always been my worst critic," Sabathia said. "There's nothing anybody can write about me or say about me that I don't already know or believe myself."

Indeed, had Sabathia been in the crowd to witness this display, he would have booed, too.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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