TAMPA, Fla. - It was not just another spring training day in the Yankees' universe Thursday. Not with what Joe Girardi referred to as "40 percent'' of his club's rotation taking the mound in some form.

CC Sabathia, who missed most of last season because of a degenerative cartilage condition in his right knee, pitched a two-inning simulated game.

Four hours later, Masahiro Tanaka pitched two perfect innings in the Yankees' 3-2 victory over the Braves in his exhibition debut, striking out two. Tanaka's first five pitches were strikes and he needed only 19 pitches -- 15 strikes -- to get six outs.

"Overall, everything, I think, worked well for me tonight,'' he said through his translator.

Tanaka, whose fastball sat at 88 to 91 mph, according to scouts in the stands, was on a pitch count of 30 to 35. He was so efficient that Girardi sent him to the bullpen to finish his night's work -- 18 more pitches.

"No signs of rust,'' one AL talent evaluator said. "He is not far off. He was able to use all of his pitches at least once. His split looked really good.''

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Said another scout: "He wasn't worried about having power tonight. It was about getting out there, pitching, working hitters, and he did it very well.''

Each seemed to pass his test.

"I'm not hurt, I feel good,'' Sabathia said after throwing 29 pitches to righthanded-hitting Cito Culver and lefthanded-hitting Trent Garrison. "That's the only way I'm judging myself right now.''

Alex Rodriguez, 0-for-2 with a walk at DH, called it a positive day. "Those guys, they're our horses,'' he said of Tanaka and Sabathia. "We're going to go as far as they take us. Obviously, health is of the essence, especially with those two guys.''

Tanaka missed 2½ months last season while rehabbing a slight tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow but did return in late September to make two unimpressive starts.

Yankees videos

The fact that he was able to do that, Girardi said before Thursday night's game, significantly lowered his stress level while watching Tanaka thus far.

"I was last year [stressed], I will tell you that," he said. "As a manager, the reason I don't want to sit on the edge of my seat all the time is injuries could happen today, they could happen five years from now. I don't need to wear myself out worrying about it every fifth day that he goes out there."

By all accounts, Tanaka had what for him was a normal offseason of preparation, with no limitations. "I feel better right now [than during those starts],'' he said. "I've had the time to prepare myself up until this point and it has gone well thus far.''

Nonetheless, the Yankees have eased him out of the gate to avoid taking any chances with an elbow he repeatedly has said is fine. That certainly seemed to be the case Thursday night. After retiring Andrelton Simmons and Alberto Callaspo on grounders, he struck out Freddie Freeman looking at an 84-mph slider.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was ejected in the bottom of the first after the first pitch to leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury, which was called a ball by plate umpire Dan Iassogna.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"I thought the balls in the first inning, when we were hitting, were down that were called strikes,'' Gonzalez said. "Then Shelby [Miller] throws a pretty good pitch that they call a ball.''

Tanaka opened the second by striking out Jonny Gomes swinging at his famed splitter, a pitch that produces the most stress on his elbow but a pitch the Yankees aren't going to try to dissuade him from throwing.

"We have not sat down and said, 'You can't do this or you can't do that,' " Girardi said. "He's got to go out and pitch. You can't have a pitcher go out there and say, 'They won't let me use my weapons.' "

Sabathia is set to make his exhibition debut, perhaps Tuesday night against Toronto. He, like Tanaka, has been on a slower schedule than the other starters, one set up before camp with pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

"That's always been the plan, just get my stuff working and be healthy,'' Sabathia said. "I warmed up pretty good today, threw pretty good today, so I'm encouraged by what's going on.''