- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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TAMPA, Fla. -- New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia faced opposing hitters for the first time since having a bone spur removed from his pitching elbow in the offseason, and although he was hardly overpowering, the left-hander proclaimed himself on schedule for an Opening-Day start against the Boston Red Sox on April 1 at Yankee Stadium.
"I felt good," Sabathia said. "Changeup was good, fastball command needs to be a little better, but I feel pretty good for the first time out."
Sabathia had thrown two simulated games against minor leaguers in camp, but Friday's game against the Miami Marlins marked his spring debut. He allowed two first-inning runs but got stronger as the game progressed and finished his five-inning, 64-pitch outing having allowed eight hits (all singles) and one walk while striking out two.
"He got better as the day went on," manager Joe Girardi said. "So I was happy."
Sabathia got into trouble in the first inning, loading the bases with no outs on two singles and a walk, but he emerged relatively unscathed when third baseman Ronnier Mustelier made a fine barehanded play on a slow roller and turned it into a double play on which one run scored. A second run scored in the inning on Rob Brantly's single to right, but Sabathia did not allow another the rest of the way.
"He was battling today the first two innings with his fastball, struggling to get into the rhythm of the game," Cervelli said. "But the last two innings, the fastball command was really good. For the first time out, amazing."
Sabathia went 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA last season, but he was on the disabled list twice, and both his velocity and effectiveness declined during the second half of the season. Earlier in the spring, Sabathia acknowledged that he pitched in pain for much of last season, adding, "It feels so much better now. At least this year I'll have more to work with than 88 (MPH)."
But Sabathia's velocity never went above 90 mph on Friday, according to the YES Network's radar gun, and both his strikeouts came on off-speed pitches -- a changeup to Brantly and a slider to Matt Downs.
Sabathia said he was not troubled by the relatively modest gun readings.
"That's probably right about it for me for spring," he said. "It may be even a little harder; usually I'm 88-90, so if I'm at 90 today, that's pretty good."
The Yankees were just happy to see their ace back on the mound and facing opposing hitters again, especially considering injuries have robbed their lineup of first baseman Mark Teixeira and center fielder Curtis Granderson at least for the first month of the season, and third baseman Alex Rodriguez until after the All-Star break.
"I don't care who we have in our lineup. We could have everyone back it's still comforting to know that he's healthy and he's able to go out there and pitch," Derek Jeter said. "You win with pitching, and everyone knows how important CC is to our team."
2dKevin Van Valkenburg