TAMPA, Fla. - The Yankees' rotation is full of question marks, and perhaps the biggest one finally is ready to take the mound.
CC Sabathia has been brought along at a deliberate pace by the Yankees, who have been extra cautious with the 34-year-old's right knee. He will make his debut Tuesday night against the Blue Jays at Steinbrenner Field.
"Pretty anxious," Joe Girardi said of seeing his former ace back in game action. "I miss seeing him out there."
Sabathia wasn't out there for long last year. After a career-worst 14-13 record and 4.78 ERA in 2013, he had high hopes for a turnaround. He pitched well at times in spring training but did not have a strong start in the regular season. He was 3-4 with a 5.28 ERA through eight starts when swelling in his right knee caused him to be shut down.
Sabathia's season ended after a May visit to Dr. James Andrews revealed a degenerative cartilage condition in the knee. Arthroscopic debridement surgery followed in July.
Sabathia declared the knee healthy early in the offseason, and despite his slower schedule, Brian McCann has liked what he's seen in camp.
"The ball's coming out good, he's looking good, we're excited to see him on the mound again," McCann said. "He got his knee fixed and hopefully he's able to drive off the back side and plant. I'm excited to catch him."
It is too early to make up a rotation order, but Sabathia would figure to slot in fourth behind Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi.
But questions surround each of those three: Tanaka's right elbow, Pineda's durability and whether Eovaldi's stuff will translate from the National League to the American League. It can't be overstated what a healthy and productive Sabathia, 208-119 with a 3.63 ERA in his career, could mean to the Yankees' chances of contending in the AL East.
Sabathia's fastball velocity has dipped in recent years. In the hopes of increasing it, under the guidance of Yankees doctors, the 6-7 lefthander actually gained weight this offseason. He reported at 305 pounds, 30 above what he weighed when he reported to camp last year.
The knee has not given him any trouble to this point, and he said the last time he felt this good in camp was 2012, when he went 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA.
"I'm encouraged by what's going on," Sabathia said Thursday after a two-inning simulated game. So is Girardi, though he's not putting much stock in Tuesday night's outing.
"It's just a step to getting him ready, that's all it is," he said. "I wouldn't make too much of it either way. I just want to see him come out of it healthy."