CC Sabathia throws a pitch during a spring training game...

CC Sabathia throws a pitch during a spring training game against the Tigers on Monday. (Feb. 28, 2011) Credit: AP


A.J. Burnett is to pitch in a game Wednesday for the first time in 2011, an event that understandably will have Yankees fans worrying much more than anyone should have to in early March.

In the meantime, the goal is to make sure the rotation's givens are just that.

Phil Hughes goes Tuesday. But first things first: CC Sabathia made his exhibition debut Monday against the Tigers, his first real test of his surgically repaired right knee and Cap'n Crunch-less waistline.

The fact that all went well was more than good news for the Yankees. It was essential news.

If Sabathia isn't right this season, the Yankees might as well challenge the beleaguered Mets to a Mayor's Trophy series for the entire summer and resume AL East play in 2012.

"Felt great,'' Sabathia said after allowing two hits and striking out two in two innings, finishing with a nifty whiff of Scott Sizemore.

The final pitch, he said, was "what I call a cutter. It's a slider, but I call it a cutter.''

By any name, it was an extremely early sign that Sabathia is physically sound, and that the 25 pounds he shed to get down to a relatively svelte 290 did not rob him of his powers.

Sabathia was pleased with his fastball command away but said he still has work to do throwing inside to righties. No big deal for a veteran who has learned not to sweat the little stuff in spring training.

"Over the years, I'd stress out and worry if I would give up runs,'' he said. "Now I'm just trying to get my work in and make sure my pitches are doing what they're supposed to do and go from there.''

Sounds reasonable. But forgive Yankees fans if they fret over any signs of flaws in Sabathia's game, given how precious he is in the absences of Andy Pettitte and Cliff Lee.

Sabathia said his knee gave him no problems, including when he ran after his brief outing. He was not surprised.

"Just throwing off the mound and throwing in batting practice, I had no problems, so I knew that it was going to be all right,'' he said.

Facing the Tigers' Justin Verlander, his likely Opening Day counterpart at the Stadium on March 31, Sabathia allowed only a single up the middle by Magglio Ordoñez and a double to left-center by Jhonny Peralta.

The ball did not leave the infield on any of the Tigers' six outs.

"Usually it takes me a while,'' he said. "I'm [usually] cutting balls, and I'm up and away. To have it pretty good this early, I can start working on my other pitches.''

Manager Joe Girardi said he was "pleased'' with what he saw. "He went out and just did his business, kind of what we expect from CC and get used to,'' he said.

"It's good to see. Everything he's done, there hasn't been an issue. But as we know, the intensity gets up a little bit when you get out there [in a game], so it's good to see.''

Sabathia said he can feel the effects of his weight loss, and that recovering from work "has gotten a lot easier.''

Did the knee affect him in the ALCS last fall, when he had a 6.30 ERA in two starts?

"No, it didn't affect me while I was out on the mound,'' he said. "When I'm out there, especially in that situation, you don't feel anything."

Sabathia, 30, lost the weight in part to lessen the stress on his knee, in part in hopes of extending his career. The question after 2011 will be whether he might extend it elsewhere, given his right to opt out of his contract.

That is a concern for another day, though. For this day, the skinny was that CC is OK.

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