The big left-hander threw seven solid innings but had to pitch out of trouble numerous times as the Brewers won their eighth straight game with a 7-1 victory over the San Diego Padres on Wednesday night.
Sabathia (7-0) has been sensational in eight starts since being acquired from Cleveland in a trade on July 7. But the reigning AL Cy Young winner had to grind out his 10th straight decision by working hard against the NL West's last-place team.
He got out of enough trouble to strand nine runners, including a bases-loaded, no-out jam in which he escaped without allowing a run.
"They did have some good at-bats, made me work and put the bat on the ball," Sabathia said. "I was just trying to make pitches when I needed to."
This start was unlike some of Sabathia's more dominating starts with the Brewers, including any of the four complete games and two shutouts. But he did what he needed to survive.
"It was more of a grind for him," said Milwaukee manager Ned Yost. "But he doesn't allow big innings to happen. He had bases loaded, no outs and he found a way out of it."
Despite the win, the Brewers dropped 3½ games behind first-place Chicago in the NL Central. The Cubs swept a doubleheader at Atlanta on Wednesday.
Milwaukee maintained its four-game lead in the wild-card race over St. Louis, a 6-4 winner at Florida.
Prince Fielder homered for the second straight game, his 28th, to get the Brewers going in the second. Milwaukee added two more runs in the inning.
Corey Hart, who had three hits, added a three-run triple in a four-run fifth inning as the Brewers increased their lead to 7-1.
Sabathia allowed one run and nine hits and lowered his ERA with Milwaukee to 1.55. He struck out eight and walked one.
"He's been everything we thought he'd be," Hart said. "When he's out there, we feel like we don't have to score a lot because he's not going to give up a lot. When he's out there, there's a good chance we'll win."
Sabathia was at his best in the fifth when retired San Diego's 3-4-5 hitters to get out of the bases-loaded jam.
"We just couldn't break through," said Padres manager Bud Black. "He's one of the best pitchers in the big leagues."
San Diego loaded the bases on singles by Luis Rodriguez and Scott Hairston, and Brian Giles' infield single. But Sabathia got Kevin Kouzmanoff on a popup, struck out Adrian Gonzalez and retired Chase Headley on a grounder.
"I was just trying to bear down and make pitches," he said. "I was just trying to get us out of the inning."
Sabathia retired the Padres in order just once. He struck out the side in his final inning, sandwiched around an infield single.
Sabathia's quality outing continued a recent trend for Milwaukee, whose starters are 9-2 with a 1.95 ERA in the last 12 games.
Fielder started the Brewers' scoring in the second with a leadoff line drive homer to right off Josh Banks (3-5). After a pair of walks, Jason Kendall hit an RBI single and Sabathia drove in a run with a ground out.
Milwaukee scored again in the fifth after two walks, including an intentional one to Fielder that loaded the bases, and an infield single. Hart followed with a triple into the left-field corner to knock Banks from the game. Craig Counsell added a sacrifice fly.
Banks allowed seven runs and five hits with six walks in 4 1/3 innings.
The eight-game winning streak matches Milwaukee's season high. ... Hart has a career average of .167 (4-for-24) with the bases loaded but has still driven in 13 RBI. ... Padres rookie shortstop Scott Kazmar had a memorable major league debut with a single in his first at-bat on the first pitch he saw against Sabathia. Kazmar was recalled from Double-A San Antonio on Tuesday. ... Brewers LF Ryan Braun sat out his fourth consecutive game with tightness in his lower back.