CLEVELAND INDIANS Sabathia hopes to be pitching by mid-April



The Tribe's left-hander is in the best shape of his career.
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) -- C.C. Sabathia has never been in better shape. An off-season spent working out six days a week with a trainer has helped Cleveland's ace drop weight and sculpt his flabby body.
He also lifted the weight of the world off his shoulders.
After having his poorest season with the Indians, one made worse by some personal tragedies, an 11-10 record and injuries, Sabathia decided it was time to take inventory of his life -- on and off the field.
At just 24, he went through a mid-baseball-life crisis.
"I had to learn that I can't do it all myself," he said. "I've learned that I need to trust others more and not put so much pressure on myself. I've learned that after I let the ball go, I can't control anything."
Struggled through 2004
He came to spring training in February 2004 after his father died following a long struggle with cancer. And then in March, Sabathia returned to California to bury his uncle. Not long after that, a close cousin bled to death after an accident.
"Looking back on it now, it definitely did have a big effect on me," he said. "It would have taken its toll on anyone."
Sabathia's escape came every fifth day in a start. But beginning on opening day in Minnesota when the Indians' bullpen blew a 4-0 lead, Sabathia's season began to unravel.
He was forced to leave a start in June with a sore shoulder, an injury worrisome enough that he visited orthopedist Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. The left-hander bounced back nicely, winning three straight starts.
Made All-Star team
But although he made the AL All-Star team for the second straight year, Sabathia was far from being on top of his game.
He had an unusually short fuse with umpires, challenging their strike zones and quarreling more than at any time in his five big league seasons.
Although he went 6-6 in 13 starts after the break, Sabathia's ERA was 6.67 in five starts in July and 6.08 in six outings in August, further proof he wasn't the same pitcher to reach 50 career wins faster than any active major leaguer.
He tried to clear his mind, but couldn't.
Then, in September, his rocky season came to an abrupt, and fitting end, when he hurt his hamstring and missed his final four starts. Given months to reflect on what went wrong, Sabathia came to some conclusions.
"I now know that I can't do everything myself," he said. "I can't go out there and throw a shutout every time or a complete game or a no-hitter every time, so why try. I don't feel like I have to make every pitch or field every ground ball. I can only do so much."
Has more help this year
This year, he'll have help.
In signing free agent Kevin Milwood and with the emergence of Jake Westbrook as an All-Star, the Indians have taken some of the pressure off Sabathia, who is 54-35 since coming up in 2001. Unlike the past few seasons, he doesn't have to take the ball feeling it's win or else.
"It has already been huge having Kevin around here," Sabathia said. "Seeing what he does to get prepared for a start, how he watches video. I'm doing things I hadn't done before."
Sabathia's off-season workouts were supervised by an Indians trainer, who had the 290-pounder lifting more weights. The results are visible in a more toned midsection and chest.
"I feel great," Sabathia said. "I'm in shape for the first time in my career and I'm excited to see what I can do."
He strained a muscle in his side earlier this month, a setback that will cost him an opening day assignment. Sabathia threw 35 pitches off a mound Tuesday for the first time since getting hurt and expects to make his season debut in mid-April.

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