TAMPA, Fla. — With the exception of a couple of loud swings in the fourth inning, it was a pretty good outing for CC Sabathia on Saturday afternoon.
It capped a good week overall for the five pitchers likely to comprise the Yankees’ rotation when camp breaks.
Though technically the competition for the jobs of fourth and fifth starter remains open, Luis Severino and Bryan Mitchell appear to have separated themselves from Luis Cessa, Chad Green and Adam Warren.
“Pretty darn good,” Joe Girardi said of the most recent outings by Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Sabathia, Mitchell and Severino. “I thought they all threw the ball pretty well. We want that to continue.”
Severino, whose lack of fastball command has been a concern dating to last spring training, was mostly terrific Tuesday against the Rays in Port Charlotte, allowing one run but striking out four in three innings.
Pineda followed that on Wednesday with a perfect five-inning outing against the Phillies in which he struck out eight. Mitchell didn’t start Thursday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin — Cessa did and allowed four runs in 1 2⁄3 innings — but Mitchell was as good as he’s been throughout spring training when he came on relief, striking out five in three innings.
Tanaka continued to look the best of any Yankees pitcher on Friday in Lakeland, striking out six Tigers and allowing no hits in a scoreless 4 1⁄3 innings, and Sabathia went 3 2⁄3 scoreless innings Saturday before a hiccup with two outs in the fourth, when he allowed three runs in a 5-4 loss to the Orioles at Steinbrenner Field.
“I think it’s going to be pretty good,” Sabathia said of the rotation. “I think we’re going to surprise some people. I think obviously we have the talent in the room. It’s just us putting it together, staying healthy and going out and making all our starts.”
Sabathia was coming off his worst exhibition start in years six days earlier when some slipshod defense behind him contributed to six runs (four earned) and six hits allowed in two-thirds of an inning.
He allowed a leadoff double in the fourth to Craig Gentry, the first hit of the game for the Orioles, but struck out Johnny Giavotella and Trey Mancini on sliders (each of his five strikeouts came on a slider). He could not finish off the inning, though, allowing lefthanded-hitting Pedro Alvarez to drive a 2-and-2 pitch off the wall in right for an RBI single and righthanded-hitting Chris Johnson to hammer a 1-and-1 cutter to left for a two-run homer that tied it at 3.
“Obviously, I want to make some better pitches there at the end with the lefty [Alvarez] to get that last out, but overall, I felt pretty good,” Sabathia said.
“Just kind of building,” he said later. “I thought the changeup was good, the cutter was good for the most part today, [and the] back-door slider. Feels like it’s coming along pretty good.”
Sabathia has a 9.45 ERA in three starts, but there’s little concern about those numbers from the Yankees, and opposing team scouts have said that for the most part, his stuff looks just fine (scouts had his fastball sitting at 86-89 mph Saturday).
Because Sabathia had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in the offseason, the Yankees have brought him along at a slower pace than in the past.
“I’m more concerned that his stuff is right than results,” Girardi said. “I thought his stuff was better today. I still don’t think it’s where it was at the end of the  season, but you could say that about a lot of guys . . . He’s coming off a knee surgery. He might be a little behind, but he’s catching up.”