TAMPA, Fla. — CC Sabathia will be watched as closely as any Yankees pitcher in spring training, and the lefthander came through his first bullpen session just fine.
“I got a little gassed at the end, but that’s normal this time of the year,” said Sabathia, who threw in the same group as Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances on Saturday. “I felt healthy, I feel good.”
That was not the case during the previous three seasons for Sabathia, 35, who has battled right knee issues each of those seasons.
But his use of a light, flexible knee brace late last season coincided with his best stretch of games since the 2012 season, when he went 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA. Although Sabathia was only 6-10 with a 4.73 ERA in 29 starts in 2015, he went 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA in his last five starts.
Now he’s in a competition for a spot in the five-man rotation, but realistically, one of them will be his if he comes through spring training healthy.
“He looks good, he looks like he’s in good shape, and the arm action’s good,” said general manager Brian Cashman, who watched Saturday’s session. “You’re hearing the pop of the glove, so it looks like he came down ready to rock and roll like normal.”
Joe Girardi said he didn’t see any lingering issues with the knee, as was the case in September.
“You saw him landing and having no problem, the front knee not collapsing, him not spinning off,” Girardi said. “His ball had sink to it, his changeup was doing what it’s supposed to do. To me, that’s what the knee brace allows him to do.”
There for the taking
While the back end of the Yankees’ bullpen has gotten, and will continue to get, plenty of attention, there isn’t much drama to it. Chapman, Miller and Betances all have jobs, regardless of their performance during spring training. But there are three bullpen openings very much up for grabs. And while young pitchers such as Chasen Shreve, Nick Goody, Nick Rumbelow, James Pazos and Jacob Lindgren will get long looks, some pitchers with big-league experience elsewhere also will have their chances to win spots. Among them are non-roster invitees Vinnie Pestano, who appeared in 19 games last season with the Angels, and Anthony Swarzak, who appeared in 10 games with the Indians. Then there’s Kirby Yates, who struggled through injury and poor performance last season with the Rays but posted a respectable 3.75 ERA in 37 appearances the previous year with Tampa Bay.
“There’s a huge opportunity here,” said Yates, who is on the 40-man roster. “That’s all you can ask for.”
Girardi said that competition is “more important” than the final three pitchers.
“A lot of times you have to bridge that gap,” Girardi said. “Those other guys to me are the guys that we really have to solve. Those guys’ roles are extremely important.”