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A glimmer of hope for CC and the Yankees

NEW YORK -- To borrow a few of Joe Girardi's favorite sayings, the outcome of CC Sabathia's first start of the season was not what you want, in a sense, and that's the bottom line.

The New York Yankees erstwhile ace allowed five runs -- four of them earned -- in 5⅔ innings, taking the loss in the Toronto Blue Jays' 6-3 win Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.

And yet, it's tough to argue with Girardi when he points out, "I thought he threw the ball a lot better than what it looks like."

It was just one bad inning that was Sabathia's undoing. He allowed four runs on five singles and two groundouts during the second, and a break or two might have cut the damage by at least half. The key play was a solidly hit grounder up the middle by Danny Valencia that might have become a big double play had Sabathia not reached out and touched it with his big right paw, deflecting it away from Didi Gregorius at short.

"Didi was standing right behind me," Sabathia said ruefully after the game. "I just got to trust that he's going to be there and he would've made the play."

The infield hit loaded the bases with none out, after which Sabathia got four straight ground balls. Unfortunately for him and the Yankees, two of them got through the infield and the other two each accounted for an out and an RBI. By the time the inning ended after Russell Martin struck out, the Blue Jays had all the runs they would need. Sabathia did not help himself in the sixth when he failed to cover third base on Valencia's single -- allowing a fifth run to score when Carlos Beltran's throw from right field struck the baserunner.

"If he'’s going to be hit that hard every time he starts, I'’ll take it," Girardi said, "because he'’s not going to give up that many runs in most games. But it was just one of those nights.”"

That it was. Take away that second inning and Sabathia allowed just three other hits, and despite working with a fastball that never topped 90 mph, he still struck out eight. Even though the one big inning has been a bugaboo for Sabathia in recent seasons, after his frightening spring, both Girardi and Sabathia were encouraged that he was able to keep the powerful Blue Jays in the ballpark and mostly on the ground.

But with the Yankees offense so far picking up where it left off last season -- the hitters went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position in this one and are 3-for-21 so far this season -- four runs were just too many to make up, even with Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira hitting solo home runs in the sixth. But aside from the score, it was mostly good news for Sabathia, who had not pitched in a big league game since May 10 of last season.

"It's something to build on," Sabathia said. "No walks. Not a lot of good contacts. So I think I threw the ball pretty good. It was just, you know, bad luck."

Bonus baseball: Rodriguez's home run was the 655th of his career, which leaves him just five shy of Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run list. It also leaves him five shy of collecting the first of five $6 million bonuses the Yankees owe him on a marketing deal that is separate from the 10-year, $275 million contract they signed him to after his 2007 MVP season. The Yankees have said they will not pay the bonuses because of Rodriguez's 162-game suspension by MLB and reported subsequent admission of performance-enhancing drug use in court testimony. Rodriguez has refused to say if he will contest the club to get his money.

Slip slidin' away: Gregorius made his second baserunning gaffe in the first three games, but unlike Monday -- when Gregorius copped to committing a cardinal sin by trying to steal third base with two outs -- this time he pleaded guilty with an explanation.

"I slipped a little bit trying to go back to first and I got stuck there," he said of his fifth-inning RBI single, when he got caught in between after the Rays cut the relay throw from right field and fired behind him at first. "For me, I just want to be aggressive on the bases. I slipped on that one, and I can't take it back. It happened, and just go forward from there."

What rivalry?: In his first start as a Yankee, Nathan Eovaldi is getting thrown right into the crucible of the first Red Sox series of the year. He'll get the ball for Game 1 of the series on Friday night. Eovaldi, who has pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Miami Marlins, acknowledged that he was aware of the vaunted rivalry but revealed he has been involved in baseball rivalries before.

"The Marlins and Braves, we kinda had one in 2013," he said. The Dodgers and Giants, of course. And the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks. That’s about it."