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CC Sabathia: 29 pitches off mound

TAMPA, Fla. -- CC Sabathia has started 383 regular-season games and 19 postseason games in his 12 major-league seasons.

And yet the New York Yankees ace made a surprising admission on Saturday: Just before releasing his first pitch from a spring training bullpen mound before small crowd of coaches and reporters, he was nervous.

"Just because it was the first time doing it,'' said Sabathia, who underwent arthroscopic surgery in the offseason to clean out a bone spur in his pitching elbow.

"I'm not surprised,'' manager Joe Girardi said. "When you have to kind of let it go a little bit, I think there's probably going to be a little bit of nervousness, because you're anxious to see what your arm is going to feel like when you get up there.''

Twenty-nine pitches -- and by his own estimation, zero strikes -- later, Sabathia had a different kind of feeling: relief.

"I immediately felt good and felt comfortable after the first couple of pitches,'' he said. "I was excited to be back up there on the mound.''

Sabathia limited his repertoire to fastballs and changeups -- he normally does not throw any breaking balls in his first bullpen of any spring training -- and gave catcher Francisco Arcia a workout on several deliveries that skipped in the dirt in front of home plate.

But it wasn't command or pinpoint control Sabathia was looking for, merely the absence of pain.

"Just playing catch I could feel the difference,'' he said. "It felt even better out on the mound.''

Although he denied it during last season, Sabathia was plagued by pain in his pitching elbow for much of last season, a condition that might have contributed to his diminished effectiveness in the second half, when he lost three of his last five regular-season starts and got bombed in the decisive Game 4 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers.

As a precaution, Sabathia will be brought along slowly this spring and is unlikely to start a preseason game until the first week of March.

"He's in no hurry and we've got plenty of time,'' Girardi said. "He said he felt good today and now the big thing is if he feels good tomorrow.''

Assuming all goes well, Sabathia's next bullpen session will be on Tuesday.