ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The starting rotation is supposed to be the Yankees’ Achilles’ heel this season. The heel didn’t get off to a good start on Opening Day when Masahiro Tanaka was rocked by the Rays in Sunday’s 7-3 defeat.
On Tuesday night, onetime Opening Day mainstay CC Sabathia gets the ball as the Yankees try for their first win. Sabathia started six consecutive openers for the Yankees from 2009-14, going 0-3 with three no-decisions.
In 2016, Sabathia started the year as the No. 5 starter. That he’s a year older and is the No. 2 now speaks to either his rebound 2016 or the lack of quality in the rotation.
“I think if we stay healthy, I think we can be really good,” Sabathia said. “We definitely have the talent and the arms in here to do it. So it’s just staying healthy.”
Sabathia stayed healthy enough last year to go 9-12 with a 3.91 ERA in 30 starts. At age 36 and in the final year of his contract, Sabathia — while keeping an eye on his troublesome right knee, which required arthroscopic surgery in October — has said he wants to continue pitching past this season.
“I feel healthy,” he said. “I feel good. My bullpens have been good. My pitches have been doing some good things. So I feel like I’m ready to go.”
Sabathia pitched to a 6.75 ERA in spring training. Unlike last year, when he was battling Ivan Nova for a rotation spot, Sabathia knew this time that all he had to do was get ready for the season. He said his focus was “just staying healthy and making sure that my arm felt good and my knee felt good, and I got that accomplished.”
Sabathia is not one to reflect, so he said he doesn’t feel any extra significance to being the No. 2 starter after starting last season as the No. 5.
“No, not at all,” he said. “It is what it is. I’m out there trying to win, and whoever’s out there that day is the best guy for the team. So I’ll take it like that.”
Inconsistent Michael Pineda will follow Sabathia on Wednesday night before the Yankees head to Baltimore for the start of a three-game series Friday.
Luis Severino will open that series. On Saturday, Tanaka will get a chance to rebound from his Opening Day performance, in which he allowed seven runs in 2 2⁄3 innings.
After Sabathia goes again Sunday, Pineda will start the home opener against Tampa Bay on Monday. The Yankees won’t need a fifth starter until April 16. Righthanders Chad Green and Luis Cessa and lefthander Jordan Montgomery are battling it out for that spot in their minor-league outings.
If it seems as if the Yankees are a little short of starting pitching, it’s probably because they are. Sabathia at least equaling his 2016 form could help alleviate that concern.
“I’m excited,” he said. “Always excited to start the season. So I’ll be ready to go.”