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03/19/10 5:32 PM ET

Girardi raves about CC's performance

Yankees ace also 'pleased' with pitches in Friday's start

TAMPA, Fla. -- As impressive as it was to see Alex Rodriguez power a baseball over the left-field scoreboard on Friday, Yankees manager Joe Girardi had to admit he liked watching his ace a little bit more.

On an afternoon when the three-time American League MVP clubbed his first home run of the spring, Girardi said that he was even more encouraged by CC Sabathia, who hurled 5 1/3 innings of two-run, eight-strikeout ball in a 6-2 victory over the Tigers.

"I really liked what CC did today," Girardi said. "His last two starts, he's been extremely efficient, and he had command all day today -- an outstanding changeup, very good breaking ball, the location was great. It's pretty much what CC is."

Sabathia scattered four hits and two walks in the outing, leaving to a loud ovation in the sixth inning before watching Jonathan Albaladejo permit an inherited runner to score. That dented Sabathia's line slightly, but there was still plenty for the lefty to glow about.

"I felt a lot better today," Sabathia said. "My offspeed pitches were good, my changeup was really good. I got some swings and misses on my cutter, so I was pleased with today."

Beginning with a called third strike on the first batter of the game, former Yankees prospect Austin Jackson, Sabathia was able to spot and command his pitches well against Detroit's lineup on a sunny afternoon at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Four of his punchouts caught Tigers hitters looking -- including Jackson twice -- and Sabathia recorded all three outs in the fourth inning via whiffs. Gaining additional touch on his breaking ball was a key, he said.

"It was just getting a better feel for it," Sabathia said. "It was better in the bullpen the last time out, and I threw some bad changeups, but for the most part, it was pretty good. The fastball command was good, too."

Two starts have passed since pitching coach Dave Eiland pointed out a flaw in Sabathia's delivery, collapsing his back leg in the windup, and he has allowed five runs on seven hits in 9 2/3 innings since trying to correct the issue.

"I have to stay on top of it, but I can feel when I need to have it corrected," Sabathia said. "The last couple of times out, I've been a lot better and the bullpen has been good, too. I'm going to just start working on getting my pitches where they need to be."

That's not a concern to Girardi, who has surprised no one in revealing that Sabathia is on track to pitch the Opening Night of baseball's season on April 4 at Fenway Park.

"CC's a standup guy," Girardi said. "He's a great self-evaluator in what he does out there. To me, he's the same this spring as he was last spring. He's the same guy."

With only a smattering of Grapefruit League outs left to record before the hits and runs begin counting for real, Sabathia said that he "definitely" can make use of the remaining two weeks in the Florida sun before the Yankees pack it up and head north.

"I feel like I can still use the work," Sabathia said. "Just coming in on righties, getting the ball in there and making sure that I get it in there and bury it. I'll take the next two weeks to be ready come April."

Bombers bits: After Friday afternoon's game, the Yankees optioned right-hander Romulo Sanchez to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and reassigned right-hander Ryan Pope to Minor League camp. There are now 50 players remaining in Major League camp: 21 pitchers, six catchers, 12 infielders and 11 outfielders.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.