NEW YORK -- Joe Girardi admitted some surprise Monday afternoon that as strong as his starting rotation has been in a June winning streak that reached 10 games later that night, CC Sabathia was not the driving force behind it.
The left-handed ace changed that in a 6-2 win against the Braves at Yankee Stadium.
Sabathia threw all nine innings for his first complete game of the season, escaping early trouble and settling down once the lineup spotted him with a fifth-inning lead.
"After the past couple starts, these guys have picked me up," said Sabathia, who tied teammate Ivan Nova for the American League lead with nine wins. "After we got the lead, I just felt like if I got in a groove, I had a good chance to finish the game."
It looked like it could be a long night for Sabathia -- who expressed frustration after the Braves scored four runs off him in seven innings last week -- when Michael Bourn sent his second pitch of the night into the gap for a triple and later scored. But after the quick start for Atlanta, Sabathia needed only 114 more pitches to retire the rest of the lineup.
Sabathia allowed the first two batters to reach base in both the fourth and fifth innings, but he escaped the fourth unscathed. Bourn smacked an RBI single into center field in the fifth to put Atlanta ahead, 2-0, but once Sabathia returned to the mound for the sixth inning, his lineup had already given him a lead.
For the next four innings, he made sure it stayed that way.
It was Sabathia's first complete game since an eight-inning loss on July 21 of last year against Tampa Bay. He has thrown at least seven innings in all but three of his 14 starts this year, including each of the past six. But he was frustrated by many of them as he struggled with command, particularly with his sinker.
He found it Monday. Chris Stewart, who has caught Sabathia's past 12 starts, said it was the best he has seen this season. He had 10 strikeouts for his third double-digit strikeout game of the season, but he also had 13 ground-ball outs.
"Through what we could call struggles -- most guys would probably be happy with what he's doing -- he hasn't had a consistent sinker," Girardi said. "I thought tonight it was as consistent as it's been."
It marked the first complete game of the Yankees' 10-game winning streak -- their longest since they won as many in May 2005 -- dominated by starting pitching. The rotation has a 2.09 ERA in the streak and earned the decision in eight of the wins.
"There's really no ace right now," Stewart said. "There's five aces."
Sabathia's last start against Atlanta -- also opposite Mike Minor -- was the worst of the winning streak, as each Yankees starter has held the opponent to two runs or fewer in every other game.
"You don't think about it when you're out there," Sabathia said, "but you don't want to be that guy. You're watching everybody have good starts and we all pull for each other and push each other, so you don't want to be the guy to mess it up."
Minor looked better than Sabathia early, facing the minimum through the first four innings. But after Alex Rodriguez ended any hopes of a no-hitter to start the fifth, the Yankees quickly ended Minor's outing.
They scored three runs in the fifth, courtesy of Russell Martin's ground-rule double and a bases-loaded two-out single from Derek Jeter on a full count, then added three more in the later innings on a pair of home runs and another Jeter single.
The insurance runs were more than Sabathia needed, as he retired the side in order in the sixth right after New York gave him a lead and retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced.
"You just sensed that he was just biding his time until his offense gave him the lead," said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who went 0-for-4. "Then he just kind of kicked it in after that."
Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.