TAMPA, Fla. -- CC Sabathia has the following message for anyone who is concerned about his weight loss: Don't worry, be happy.
Over the past few days, photos of a gaunt-looking Sabathia have circulated on the Internet, raising all sorts of alarmist rumors about the health of the New York Yankees' formerly portly ace. Sabathia, for example, appeared slimmer in this Twitter photo he posted of himself with actor Amaury Nolasco after Wednesday night's Knicks-Kings game:
But Sabathia -- who once weighed 315 but now tips the scale at 275 -- says just the opposite is true, that his weight loss has made him healthier and, he hopes, better than he was last year, when he struggled to a 14-13 record and career-high 4.78 ERA.
"During the offseason, I decided to lose the weight to be around my family, be around my kids," he said. "I had a cousin pass away that was pretty young from heart disease, so it was just really about that."
The death of Demetrius Davis from heart disease at 45 two Decembers ago made an impact on Sabathia's lifestyle, to the point that his face and body now look transformed, a transformation that has had a surprising effect on a lot of Yankees fans.
"Everybody was like mad at me and stuff,'' Sabathia said of the online fan reaction. "I didn't think people would care that much. But whatever. I thought it was hilarious.''
Sabathia said he lost the weight through a combination of cutting out carbohydrates and increasing the intensity of his workouts. But he acknowledged that the rapid weight loss (he dropped 30 of the 40 pounds before last season) may have contributed to his subpar 2013 season, when his fastball -- which once averaged more than 94 mph -- dropped to about 91 mph.
"I think it was just losing that much weight and trying to play a professional sport,'' Sabathia said. "I probably did it the wrong way going into a baseball season last year. I was joking in there with [trainer Stevie Donohue] that I felt like 'The Biggest Loser' last year.
"I lost a lot of weight, but I wasn't physically ready to go out and play. So this year was just all about training and getting ready to play."
When asked whether weight loss affected Sabathia last year, manager Joe Girardi said, "I think that could be part of it."
"I think that not having a normal offseason because he was rehabbing his elbow was part of it as well," Girardi said. "I can't tell you exactly where his velocity is going to be. But the bottom line for his success is not his velocity. Obviously it helps a little bit, but it's location. I think he got behind the eight ball a little bit because of the injury last year, but he's had a normal winter and I think his location will be much better and I do think his velocity will be better, I do."
Sabathia said his offseason training regimen was geared toward increasing his stamina.
"I feel like I lost a little bit of power last year,'' he said. "By the fourth or fifth inning I was usually tired. That was something we really worked on this offseason, going out and making sure I'm ready to pitch a full game.''
Sabathia is still the nominal ace of the Yankees' staff, although Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova outpitched him for most of last season, and this year the Yankees have added Masahiro Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for Japan's Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2013.
He conceded he lost some faith in his ability last season and that, despite being a former Cy Young Award winner and a pitcher who averaged 19 wins a season for his first three seasons with the Yankees, he feels as if he has to re-establish his credentials this season.
"I always feel I have something to prove, but more so this year,'' Sabathia said. "But I'm pretty confident in my ability, and know that I can do so. I'm coming in this year feeling good, and good to go.''