CLEVELAND -- Joe Girardi smiled after spelling out what he hoped to see in CC Sabathia's return from the disabled list. "I'll sign up for seven innings of shutout baseball,'' he said.
Pretty close. In his first start after a DL stint he never wanted, Sabathia (13-3) pitched the Yankees to a 3-1 win over the Indians before 27,986 at Progressive Field. He allowed one run and four hits in 71/3 innings.
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In his first start since Aug. 8 because of the elbow stiffness that put him on the DL, Sabathia walked one and struck out nine. "I was pleasantly surprised how good his command was,'' Girardi said. But it was pretty much what Sabathia expected. "I felt pretty good in the bullpen,'' he said. "I didn't feel like it would be an issue.''
A relatively long layoff for Rafael Soriano was an issue, but it didn't prove costly. The closer, who had not worked since Sunday, had to escape a second-and-third, none-out jam in improving to 32-for-34 in save chances this season.
"Sometimes if I don't pitch for three or four days, I don't feel the same,'' Soriano said. "Everything will be OK tomorrow.''
Swisher (three hits) drove in all three runs with an RBI double in the first inning and his 19th homer. Derek Jeter doubled, singled and scored two runs, but more importantly, he escaped injury when he was hit in the batting helmet by Corey Kluber.
Kluber, making his fifth career start, cracked the bill of Jeter's helmet with a 92-mph fastball in the second inning. It sent the helmet flying and sent Jeter reeling toward the third-base dugout. Although he was staggered, he didn't go down, but he was angry. He told Kluber, "You don't do that.''
Jeter later said, "Of course you're angry. No one wants to get hit in the head.''
He said his message to the pitcher was, "Be careful when you're throwing up and in.''
Apparently shaken but open to Jeter's advice, Kluber then threw 11 off-speed pitches before unleashing another fastball.
Neither Girardi nor Jeter, who had doubled and scored on Swisher's double in the first, thought the pitch was intentional. "I don't think anyone throws at someone's head on purpose,'' Jeter said. "I don't think he did that. I just think if you're going to be throwing up and in, you have to be careful. That's a dangerous area to be throwing.''
Sabathia's retaliation -- at least it looked that way -- came in the fourth. On a 1-and-0 pitch, Sabathia threw the ball behind Asdrubal Cabrera, who glared at him. Plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth warned both benches and Cabrera delivered his own retaliation, slamming the next pitch to straightaway center for his 14th homer and tying it at 1-1.
"It got away,'' Sabathia said, straightfaced, of the pitch behind Cabrera.
Although late August games generally can't be described as must-wins, the victory felt important for a team coming off a three-game sweep at the hands of the White Sox. The Yankees had seen their AL East lead, once 10 games, trimmed to 2½ games entering the evening. But when the Rays lost to the Athletics, 5-4, the Yankees moved 3½ ahead.
"We went to Chicago and they put it on us,'' Sabathia said. "It was good to get a win, and hopefully we can get it rolling.''