Mariano Rivera throws 18 pitches

TAMPA, Fla. -- Mariano Rivera pitched an inning of a simulated game Thursday morning and came away more pleased by the balls he caught than by the ones he threw.

"What do you guys think, huh?" Rivera asked a group of reporters who watched his 18-pitch session on the back field at George Steinbrenner Field. "How was the fielding?"

Rivera had already thrown to hitters last week, but had yet to field a ball off the mound, one of the last hurdles in his recovery from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee last May.

This time, however, he needed to come off the mound quickly three times -- once to cover first on a bunt, another time to field a bunt up the first-base line and the third time to cut off a bouncing ball between first base and the mound.

"That's what I wanted to do, field some bunts, go after some balls in between first and the mound, and just plant and throw," Rivera said. "It feels good, guys, it feels real good. It was perfect."

Rivera's one inning came in between a pair of innings by CC Sabathia, who threw 46 pitchers to three hitters -- Kyle Roller, Addison Maruszak and Ronnier Mustelier -- and emerged satisfied that his surgically-repaired pitching elbow was fully healed.

"I'm excited that I don't have that little pain in there anymore and just getting used to not dealing with it," said Sabathia, who has arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur in October. "When it's there, you kind of compensate for it a little bit and try not to feel it. Now I can get back to throwing with my normal throwing motion and not feeling that little pain."

Neither Rivera nor Sabathia is scheduled to pitch in an exhibition game yet, but both believe they are close to being ready.

"I'm a long way from being ready to pitch in the season, but I feel good, my arm's feeling good, arm slot is good," Sabathia said. "I'm definitely getting fired up to pitch in a spring training game. I haven't had any problems or any setbacks so, I'm excited."