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CC Sabathia on decision to enter alcohol rehab: ‘I was scared to death’

New York Yankees' CC Sabathia works out at

New York Yankees' CC Sabathia works out at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, on Feb. 18, 2016. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

TAMPA, Fla. — CC Sabathia used words one typically wouldn’t associate with a man his size.

“I was scared to death. I really didn’t know how my teammates or how people would react,” Sabathia said Friday of his decision to enter a 30-day rehab program for alcohol addiction last October.

But the reaction was overwhelmingly supportive, and the 35-year-old lefthander is glad he did it.

And he sounded like a rookie while discussing his excitement level for 2016.

“This is the most anticipation I’ve had for spring in a long time,” the 6-7, 305-pound Sabathia said. “I’ve been looking forward to getting down here, being with the guys and doing baseball work. Given everything I went through in October, I was just excited to get down here with my teammates, excited to get to work.”

There is plenty of it to do.

After compiling a 15-6 record and a 3.38 ERA in 2012 — “I knew I was an alcoholic in 2012,” he said Friday — he went 14-13/4.78, 3-4/5.28 (in eight starts) and 6-10/4.73 in the next three seasons.

But he finished 2015 strong, going 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA in his final five starts. He said he received a big assist in that solid stretch from the light and flexible brace he wore on the right knee that has given him so much difficulty the last three years.

Though he has the strongest resume of the six pitchers competing for a spot in the rotation — 214-129 with a 3.69 ERA in 15 seasons — Sabathia said he must earn the job. “I think with all the good pitchers we have, of course, you want to win your spot,” he said.

Though Ivan Nova is likely to be the odd man out, assuming health for the other pitchers, Joe Girardi said: “Our goal is to take the five best guys.”

Sabathia, of course, will face challenges beyond the diamond, first and foremost staying sober. He said he’s not concerned about the late nights out on the road with teammates that are so much a part of a big-leaguer’s life.

“I think that’s why it [rehab] was so shocking to some people, that I was always able to go where I wanted, concerts, dinners, different things, and not pick up a drink,” Sabathia said. “Once I got myself away, that’s when I would drink.”

While the Yankees, and Sabathia for that matter, have said the drinking didn’t impact his pitching in recent seasons, staying sober will only help in that regard.

“My body will definitely feel better,” Sabathia said. “I’ll be 36 this summer, so any little thing that I can [do] to stay healthy and kind of feel good is going to matter at this point. Not drinking alcohol will be huge for me at this point of my career.”

Notes & quotes: Aroldis Chapman and the possible suspension he faces for domestic-abuse allegations dominated just over half of Girardi’s 32-minute pre-spring training news conference Thursday. It was general manager Brian Cashman’s turn Friday.

“I would just state that he was going to be playing in the majors this year,” Cashman told reporters. “He’s going to be playing for somebody this year, performing and working, not denied work, and so we made the determination that he was going to be here. He was going to pitch somewhere.” . . . Though Girardi said Thursday that pitching 200 innings is a possibility for 22-year-old righthander Luis Severino this season, Cashman hedged a bit, indicating that there could be an innings limit. “I’m not going to put a number out there,” he said. “I hope he puts himself in a position where we have to make certain decisions along the way.” Severino threw a combined 161 2⁄3 innings between the minors and majors last year . . . Girardi watched all 20 bullpen sessions thrown by his pitchers Friday, including the 25-pitch session thrown by Masahiro Tanaka, the righthander’s second of spring training. “He said he felt good,” Girardi said.

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