CC Sabathia got about as far away as he could from a Major League mound during the All-Star break, and he'll make his return to reality on the Fenway Park hill Sunday night in the finale of the Yankees' three-game series against the Red Sox.
Sabathia, who spent his break on St. Barts island in the Caribbean, will take on right-hander Ryan Dempster in the finale, with Dempster stepping in for the originally scheduled Jon Lester, whose start was pushed back due to general fatigue.
The Yankees' big lefty Sabathia said he spent his break out of touch and didn't see the All-Star Game, playing catch to keep limber but otherwise uncharacteristically taking a break from the game, and even watching television.
"I didn't see anything about baseball," he said. "It was actually refreshing to be able to get away and relax. It was the first time I'd done that in a while. I feel good."
The Yankees are hoping he feels better than he did his last start, when he matched his shortest outing of the season with just four innings of work in a 10-4 loss to the Twins. He allowed eight runs, only three of them earned, in that one, and it stuck in his craw a bit.
"It doesn't change anything, I haven't pitched yet," said Sabathia, whose July performance at 1-2 with a 3.60 ERA marks an improvement over June. "I'm still terrible and disappointed."
The Red Sox, meanwhile, are hurting in their rotation, what with All-Star Clay Buchholz sidelined with neck and shoulder soreness and now Lester dealing with what Red Sox manager John Farrell termed as "general wear and tear."
With Dempster rested and ready to step in after the break, the Red Sox figured it best to give their lefty a little longer to get into the second half.
"We felt like two things: one, we have an opportunity right now to give him a couple extra days coming out of the break. And two, he'll benefit from it," Farrell said of Lester.
Dempster, like Sabathia, has had a long time to chew on a rough start, having lasted just 3 1/3 innings his last start before the All-Star Game, allowing seven runs (four earned) before being removed after throwing 91 pitches. Dempster made his Red Sox debut in April at Yankee Stadium, taking the loss after giving up three runs in five innings of work.
Sabathia, meanwhile, was roughed up by the Red Sox on Opening Day but had a strong start against them in May, and now he has a quick island vacation behind him and hopes a strong second half is in front of him and his ballclub.
"I think given the position that we're in, trying to make up games and trying to win this division, I think every start is going to be big. It'll start with [Sunday]," Sabathia said.
Yankees: Gardner returns after ejection
Brett Gardner's game Friday night ended at home plate, and he started Saturday's game right back there, eventually going 3-for-5 with a trio of singles after leading off the game with one of them.
Gardner was ejected from Friday's game in the fifth inning after throwing his helmet in reaction to a called third strike by umpire Mike Everitt and said afterward he needs to "do a better job of keeping my emotions in check."
Before his ejection, Gardner had stolen a pair of bases to take over the Yankees' No. 10 spot in career steals with 152, leaving him one shy of Mickey Mantle in ninth place. Gardner made a steal attempt in the top of the ninth Saturday but was thrown out to end the inning.
Red Sox: Victorino could play Sunday
Shane Victorino experienced tightness in his left hamstring Friday night and was held out of Saturday's lineup. But Farrell is hopeful the veteran outfielder will be back in action Sunday.
Farrell said Victorino was "responding favorably to treatment" so a Sunday return should be in order.
"As he's been dealing with this issue for quite a while, we fully expect him to have to deal with it. But it's not to the point to disable him," Farrell said.
• The Yankees now have won eight of the last 13 and 19 of the last 30 meetings with the Red Sox.
• After Sunday night's finale, both teams will continue to play contenders, with the Yankees traveling to Texas for a four-game set and the Red Sox hosting the Rays for four.
• This has been the latest first visit to Fenway Park by the Yankees since the strike-interrupted 1981 season, and stands as the latest in a full season in the rivalry's history. Once the series concludes Sunday, the two teams have three more series this season: Aug. 16-18 at Fenway, Sept. 5-8 at Yankee Stadium, and Sept. 13-15 back at Fenway.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.