JUPITER, Fla. -- The all-time home run king, Barry Bonds, watched the New York Yankees-Miami Marlins game with his fellow Miami coaches while sitting on a padded folding chair outside the dugout Tuesday at Roger Dean Stadium. During an innings break, Bonds stood up and walked toward home plate to deliver a message to CC Sabathia, who had completed his first appearance since entering alcohol rehab in October.
Sabathia grew up near San Francisco as a big fan of Bonds. Sabathia would periodically talk with Bonds, and Bonds, according to Sabathia, took an interest in him. The two hadn't spoken in a while, but Bonds, like seemingly everyone in baseball, is rooting for Sabathia.
After Sabathia's two scoreless and hitless innings against the Marlins, Sabathia made the walk across the diamond from the Yankees dugout on the first base line to the locker room beyond the left-field wall. On the way there, near home plate, he was intercepted by Bonds, who offered a hug and a handshake.
Bonds told Sabathia, "Keep going. I'm checking up on you, and stay healthy."
Sabathia, 35, looked pretty healthy his first time out. He is a finesse pitcher now, even if his $25 million salary is doled out for power. His mechanics were solid and consistent, which makes it seem likely that he could win the fifth spot, if an injury doesn't make Joe Girardi's decision for him.
A scout clocked Sabathia's fastball as high as 89 and said it ranged from 85 to 89 over his 25 pitches. Sabathia was able to strike out two batters -- Christian Yelich and Martin Prado -- while walking one.
"He was sharp," Yelich said. "He had his cutter going and his slider. I only saw three pitches."
It is impossible to accurately analyze such a short outing so early in the spring. The velocity might be in an expected range, considering he might add a mile or three by the end of the spring or with the adrenaline of the regular season.
Although Girardi likes to play down velocity when it suits his argument, every mile Sabathia adds will make his cutter and change that much more deceptive -- and that will be the main ingredient for his future success.
"Yeah, he’s not a power guy anymore," Girardi said. "He understands that."
The alcohol issue is a demon Sabathia will fight for the rest of his life. He knows that too, but in this early stage, he does sound and look healthier.
On the mound, with a knee brace that made a huge difference in his results at the end of last season, Sabathia is making the Yankees feel more confident that he will hold up physically.
Regardless of expectations, the Yankees are designed to win a championship. Although Sabathia's track record will give him an advantage over Ivan Nova for the fifth spot, he will have to pitch well to keep it. This is not a regular spring training for him. He will be evaluated on his results.
"You’ll look at his stuff," Girardi said. "You’ll look at the swings, you’ll look at his command. Is he in good counts? That sort of thing. Hitters really tell you what a guy’s stuff is. They really do by the contact that they make, so that’s what you look at."
In 25 pitches, 16 of which were strikes, Sabathia passed Tuesday -- which seems to be the preference of everyone in locker rooms across Florida and Arizona. From Bonds to the clubhouse attendants he treats with respect, Sabathia is well-liked. Tuesday was a small step that had even opponents rooting for him.