ST. PETERSBURG -- Over 16 summers in the big leagues, there have not been many young catchers who have instantly earned CC Sabathia's trust, to the point where they could navigate an entire lineup without a single shake-off.
Gary Sanchez is a rare exception to that rule, and the Yankees hope they will enjoy the benefits of that budding relationship each time through the rotation. Sabathia and his batterymate started their season together with a victory, spinning five sharp innings against the Rays in a 5-0 win at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night.
"We've been comfortable from the start," Sabathia said. "Sanchy was great tonight. I didn't shake him off at all. He established that inside part of the plate early, and we just went from there."
Sabathia and Sanchez worked together just once last season, an Aug. 6 loss to the Indians in which Sabathia served up a pair of home runs. Brian McCann caught Sabathia in his last eight starts of the year, a span over which Sabathia posted a 2.37 ERA.
Already anointed as the Yanks' catcher of the future, Sanchez was taking notes from the bench. This spring, following McCann's trade to the Astros, Sanchez found time to volley ideas with Sabathia about sequences, pitch patterns and how they would attack certain hitters.
"It doesn't have to be on the mound or on the field," Sabathia said. "Just talking and having a good relationship, him kind of knowing what I want to do and you just go from there. He's special. He's different."
That paid off on Tuesday as Sabathia limited the Rays to three hits in an 85-pitch effort. Sanchez said that he thought Sabathia's cutter, slider and fastball command were all on point.
"There's a lot of preparation before games," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "The key is to go over the plan for the game. He was really good today. His pitches were very sharp. He's a guy that usually doesn't shake people off. It was easy to be on the same page."
Yanks manager Joe Girardi noticed a slight spike in Sabathia's velocity, which he attributed to the more competitive environment. Rays manager Kevin Cash applauded Sabathia's continuing reinvention.
"He really pitched and it's not surprising," Cash said. "This is a guy who we've had plenty of battles with, and it seems like he has the ability to keep the ball off the barrel. That's what he did."
Sabathia said that being able to spot his two-seamer inside has helped him expand on both sides of the plate. The Rays only moved runners into scoring position twice against Sabathia, who had to work harder in the fourth and fifth innings but escaped without damage.
"It's good. That's something that I have to be able to do, to command the inside part of the plate to throw my changeup and my slider out there," Sabathia said. "We did a good job of that early today."
Girardi said that he is pleased to see how Sabathia and Sanchez have come together.
"I thought they did a really good job tonight. I thought they had a good plan and they stuck to it and I thought they made a lot of big pitches," Girardi said. "We tried to put Gary with the starters as much as we can so he gets used to them. … I think he's pretty comfortable with everybody."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.