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"I was nervous and scared and I didn't know what to expect, but looking back at it now, it's something I'm definitely glad I did," Sabathia said. "I was able to come out after that and just have a good offseason."
General manager Brian Cashman said that it will be a true open competition, with the club intending to take the five best starters north in April. Sabathia was 6-10 with a 4.73 ERA in a team-leading 29 starts last season, and the Yankees are encouraged by the 2.17 ERA he posted in his final five starts.
The rotation currently consists of Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and Luis Severino. Sabathia and Ivan Nova are competing for the No. 5 spot.
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"I expect him to pitch well. I expect him to kind of jump back into where he left off last year," manager Joe Girardi said. "He pitched well for us. Those are our expectations. He's a guy that we signed to be a starter, and that's what we expect."
The late-season improvement coincides with when Sabathia yielded to wearing a knee brace on his right knee, which keeps him from hyperextending. That suggestion came from Carlos Beltran, who wears the same model while patrolling the outfield.
"I got a new lightweight one that I started using at the end of the year last year and I really took to it," Sabathia said. "I'm excited about what it's done for me. Throwing my bullpens this winter, I've felt great. I'll use it again [Saturday] in my first bullpen and just work from there."
Sabathia said Friday marked the final time he will discuss his alcoholism publicly, but it promises to be an ongoing fight for him, one that the Yankees will assist with, along with Sabathia's own family and support network.
"Between him, his family, his teammates, this organization, hopefully everybody's there and he knows that he can rely on a lot of people to help him fight along the way," Cashman said. "But I do know it's a challenge on a daily basis that never goes away."
Sabathia said he had reached his breaking point while drinking heavily during the season's final weekend in Baltimore. He has been assigned a sponsor, whom he speaks with regularly. He also was touched to receive support from teammates and opponents like David Price, David Ortiz and Torii Hunter.
"It was one of those things where I was scared to death; I didn't really know how my teammates or people would react," Sabathia said. "The love and support that I've gotten has been overwhelming, and makes me feel better about the decision that I made."