But this season, Sabathia's reputation as a workhorse hasn't been limited to just single-game microcosms. It's really been the defining trait of his renaissance as an ace.
Sabathia dominated yet again in the Yankees' 4-0 win over Detroit on Friday night, allowing just five hits and striking out four in seven shutout innings to improve his ERA on the season to 2.28 and improve the Yankees' record to above .500 for the first time since mid-April. After struggling to a 5.06 ERA through four starts in April, Sabathia has posted a 0.71 ERA over his last six starts, the best six-game stretch of his entire career.
The veteran's renaissance is certainly a surprising one. Sabathia hasn't finished a season with an ERA under 4.00 since 2011 and has seen his FIP steadily rise about half-a-point each season since then as well. But Sabathia's return to dominance has been rooted in understanding that he's not the same flame-throwing pitcher he was five or 10 years ago, a trait Girardi said can't be undersold.
"When you have 97, 98 [mph] in the tank, you can rely on it sometimes when you're struggling with other stuff," Girardi said. "But now, he has found a cutter that has been extremely effective."
Thanks in large part to that cutter, a pitch he uses approximately one-third of the time, Sabathia has found a new avenue for success. Despite his lowest rate of strikeouts per nine innings since 2004, Sabathia is in the middle of his best career season by ERA, hits per nine innings and home runs per nine innings. His ERA and HR/9 numbers both come in at third best in the American League.
To Sabathia, this return to form can be attributed to his clean bill of health and the tutelage of pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
"Obviously every pitcher ages and you lose your fastball velocity and all that stuff," Sabathia said. "But talking to Larry, we felt good about the direction we were headed with the changeup and the cutter."
By catcher Brian McCann's estimation, the slower, more location-based pitches do just as good as a job for Sabathia as throwing 97 mph ever did. This is because, by McCann's explanation, this style of pitching saws batters off and makes them guess when they swing, rather than being able to sit on fastballs knowing they'll come straight.
"Now he's firing that cutter in there on a consistent basis and getting the hitters looking in and changing speeds everywhere else," McCann said. "When you've got to pick a side of the plate as a hitter, it makes it extremely hard to hit."
But as well as Sabathia's been pitching, as lights out as he's been and as surprising as his numbers may appear, Sabathia doesn't care. He doesn't care that his 0.71 ERA since the beginning of May is better than those of Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta, or anyone in baseball for that matter.
It's still only June 10. Talk to him in October and maybe he'll be pleased.
"What do you want me to do with that?," Sabathia asked when presented with his ERA. "It is what it is. I'll be proud of it if we can keep it going."
Nick Suss is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.