Sabathia flying under the radar
Likely Opening Day starter takes part in first BP session
TAMPA, Fla. -- Put a circle around March 6, the date that CC Sabathia will make his first Spring Training start. Then skip forward six turns in the rotation, factor in some logic and the result is clear: Sabathia is primed to be the Yankees' Opening Day starter.
"I have not necessarily made an announcement," manager Joe Girardi said. "But that's a pretty good assumption."
Though that April 6 game in Baltimore remains weeks in the future, it seemed somewhat closer on Thursday, when Sabathia threw batting practice for the first time as a Yankee. He fired 30 pitches at around 80 percent velocity to a quartet of Minor Leaguers, focusing on location for his two-seam and four-seam fastballs.
It wasn't anything like an Opening Day assignment, but it was certainly a start.
"If I do get that opportunity, I'll definitely cherish it," Sabathia said. "It would definitely be an honor."
Sabathia's presence at Yankees camp has so far gone relatively unnoticed, considering the circus revolving around Alex Rodriguez and his admitted use of performance-enhancing substances. But now that baseball has again become relevant at George M. Steinbrenner Field, Sabathia's batting-practice session was a popular attraction.
Girardi said that he was surprised at how fluid Sabathia looked this early in the spring, at a time when most pitchers struggle with their command.
"He was hitting his spots," Girardi said. "Obviously, CC's an ace kind of pitcher, and it's what you expect from those guys as the season gets going. But you're never sure they're going to do it right away."
Batting practice always offers some interesting matchups, with position players taking hacks off their own pitchers. Most of them don't swing much -- if at all -- during the first few sessions, preferring to use the opportunity to work on their timing.
But it creates an interesting dynamic nonetheless. Joba Chamberlain, for example, spent Thursday morning playfully challenging Mark Teixeira who -- along with Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Johnny Damon; the meat of the Yankees' lineup -- was scheduled to stand in against him. Privately, though, Chamberlain held a more realistic outlook.
"Yeah, it'll be good," Chamberlain said of facing that quartet. "I'll throw a heater right down the middle and Whack! It'll make me feel real good about myself."
Sabathia enjoyed something of an easier assignment on Thursday, much as he has throughout the first week of camp. With Rodriguez dominating the headlines, Sabathia has used his relative anonymity to bond with Andy Pettitte, a lefty with an extra half a dozen years of big league experience.
Sabathia may be one of the most dominant starting pitchers in the game, but he is not above searching for a few pointers.
"There are always things that you can learn in this game," Sabathia said. "Once you think you've got it figured out, you're in trouble. There are always little things you can pick up in a guy's routine or just the way they throw bullpen [sessions] that can make you better."
And Sabathia put that into practice on Thursday, firing his fastballs in a 30-pitch session.
"You're curious, because in a sense, you've never seen him throw from up that close," Girardi said of Sabathia. "You see guys take swings off him. You watch for the crispness of his slider. You're not necessarily looking for too much, but it's good when you see him come out of it if he throws well, if he feels good. That's the best part of it."
But it's hardly reason to be content.
"I've still got a lot of work to do," Sabathia said.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.