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3/29/2013 10:00 A.M. ET

Pain-free CC eager to continue leadership by example

TAMPA, Fla. -- As CC Sabathia prepares to take the ball for his fifth Opening Day start with the Yankees, the ace left-hander can't help but feel that his time in pinstripes is flying by.

It is difficult for Sabathia to believe that the 2009 season, his first in pinstripes, is now so far in the rearview mirror. But the impact of having Sabathia in the clubhouse has changed the Yankees for the better.

"I think I'm the same as I was when I came in here," Sabathia said. "It's been definitely fun. I've enjoyed my time here, being in this organization and being part of the Yankees family, but I think I'm the same."

April 1: Red Sox 8, Yankees 2
W: Lester   L: Sabathia
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Sabathia has loomed large, literally and figuratively, in helping the Yankees become a more cohesive unit. The team has morphed from a group of players that general manager Brian Cashman frankly told Sabathia was "broken" while attempting to recruit his services as a free agent in December 2008.

In the seasons that have followed, Sabathia has been something of a Pied Piper in the clubhouse, organizing outings to basketball games during Spring Training and dinners with teammates over the course of the season.

Sabathia said that he does not consider himself a vocal leader, and that if he does lead at all, it is by example. That seems to be a fair assessment, because for the most part, wherever Sabathia has gone, the Yankees have happily followed.

"To me, I felt like [Cashman] was talking about the clubhouse and guys getting along," Sabathia said. "Obviously we had the talent here for many years and just couldn't get the chemistry together."

Sabathia said that he did not do it alone, naming Nick Swisher, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira as those who helped transition the atmosphere of the Yankees' clubhouse into a lighter and more welcoming room.

"I think adding Swish, A.J. with the pies, myself, Tex -- I think it was just kind of a little culture change -- a little bit -- and it's just been working out," Sabathia said.

That has carried over into the new campaign, Sabathia said, where the Yankees are looking forward to having a full season of Ichiro Suzuki along with new additions like Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner.

"The chemistry is great in here," Sabathia said. "This team gets along. We have a lot of fun, and it's been kind of the same core for the last couple of years. We know what to expect out of each other, and it's a lot of fun."

The 2013 season promises to be an interesting one for Sabathia, who is coming off October surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow, a campaign that will get under way when he takes the Stadium mound to throw the first pitch of the Yankees' season at 1:05 p.m ET on Monday against the Red Sox.

"It's getting the season started," Sabathia said. "You want to get off on the right note. You want to set the tone and try to pitch well. I've had good ones and I've had bad ones, so it's just the nerves and the anticipation of Opening Day. This is an exciting time. It's fun to be a part of it."

He was 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA in 28 starts last year, spanning exactly 200 innings, and struck out 8.87 batters per nine innings -- the second-best mark of his career. More bad news for American League hitters: Sabathia is happily pitching without pain again.

New York Yankees
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 CF Brett Gardner
2 RF Ichiro Suzuki
3 2B Robinson Cano
4 1B Kevin Youkilis
5 DH Ben Francisco
6 LF Vernon Wells
7 SS Eduardo Nunez
8 3B Jayson Nix
9 C Chris Stewart
Projected rotation
1 LHP CC Sabathia
2 RHP Hiroki Kuroda
3 LHP Andy Pettitte
4 RHP David Phelps
5 RHP Ivan Nova
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart

"I definitely feel a relief, just having that range of motion back and not having that ache at the end of my extension," Sabathia said. "I felt that right away, so hopefully I can just continue to get better and continue to feel less. After last year, going through what I went through pretty much the whole second half, playing catch so far, it feels a lot better."

Sabathia is closing in on the 200-victory plateau, carrying a career record of 191-102 into the '13 campaign, but he said that he is much more focused on a different round number.

"Thirty starts," Sabathia said. "I'm just trying to make all my starts and make sure I stay healthy. After having the season I had last year, being on the DL a couple times, getting a little older, I just want to concentrate on staying healthy. Any kind of numbers I feel will be there if I'm healthy, so that's the only thing I'm worried about."

Being with the Yankees has provided Sabathia with a strong level of comfort. He relocated his family from California to make their full-time residence in the New York suburb of Alpine, N.J., and said after his most recent contract extension -- one that will keep him with the club through 2016 -- that he plans to write the final chapters of his career with the Yankees.

That seems very far away to Sabathia, but when asked how he hopes his legacy with the organization will be viewed, he did not hesitate to respond.

"Just somebody who went out and gave it everything they had every time out," Sabathia said, "and left everything out there, good, bad or whatever. I want people to know that I gave it everything I had every time out."

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