Sabathia fits as leading man for opener

Sabathia fits as leading man for opener

Everything was created big at the new home of the Yankees, where players and fans are preparing to explore a building 500,000 square feet larger than the predecessor across the street.

There's no getting around the huge expectations for the opening of the new facility, and accordingly, the man who throws the first pitch to be recorded for the ages is pretty big-time himself.

Ace left-hander CC Sabathia will get the ball on Thursday afternoon when the Yankees create a new chapter in franchise history, kicking off their inaugural season at their $1.5 billion cathedral.

"It's going to be great," Sabathia said. "I'm excited to get a chance to go out there and open up the stadium."

Preparing to move their stage next door with the opening of the new Yankee Stadium, the Yankees are planning a tremendous celebration prior to the 1:05 p.m. ET start in the Bronx. Fans are urged to be in their seats at least one hour before game time to take in the festivities, which will include appearances by a cavalcade of Yankees favorites.

The forecast is calling for a sunny afternoon in the Bronx, with principal owner George M. Steinbrenner expected to be among those on hand as the Yankees cut the ribbon on the spacious granite-and-limestone stadium, which comes equipped with modern amenities within the framework of the original building.

"I think everyone is a bit overwhelmed by it," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "If you're sitting down thinking about how you're going to build a stadium, I don't think there's anything else you could put in. It's tremendous."

Sabathia said that he will not be able to enjoy the ceremonies, since he will be attending to his business in the bullpen and behind the scenes. But the Yankees liked what they saw in the Sabathia's last outing, when the lefty spun 7 2/3 innings of scoreless, six-hit ball against the Royals in Kansas City, walking none and striking out six.

When Yankees manager Joe Girardi came out to get the ball in the eighth inning at Kauffman Stadium, Sabathia almost appeared surprised, and catcher Jorge Posada approved of Sabathia's steadfast nature.

That commitment could serve Sabathia well under the hot spotlights on Thursday, and the southpaw said that he is not anticipating butterflies for the start because he is already beginning to settle in to regular-season mode.

It also helped that the Yankees played two Spring Training games in New York against the Cubs on April 3 and 4, allowing Sabathia to check out the mound and get acclimated to his surroundings.

"Obviously, it'll be a big game because it's the first start, but I think I'll be fine," Sabathia said. "It'll be a big moment. Even when Chien-Ming Wang threw the first pitch in the [Spring Training] game, with all the flashbulbs going off, it was a big moment. I'm glad it's a day game so I won't get blinded by the flashes."

One interesting note for Sabathia is that it will be his first career start against the Indians, the organization that drafted him in 1998 and retained his services up until a trade last July that sent him to Milwaukee, where Sabathia helped guide the Brewers to the postseason for the first time in more than two decades.

The scheduling quirk is one that Sabathia has known about almost as long as his name was affixed to a seven-year, $161 million contract with the Yankees, but the fact that it is coming on such a pivotal and emotional day in franchise history is interesting.

Sabathia still keeps in touch with "a lot" of the same Indians players who will be trying to log the first hits in the new Yankee Stadium, with Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore, Kelly Shoppach, Jamey Carroll and David Dellucci among them.

"I guess it's going to be weird," Sabathia said. "It's my first time ever to pitch against them. Me being there so long, it's kind of ironic that my first start in the new Stadium is going to be against them. I've faced those guys throwing BP in Spring Training. It'll be a little different tomorrow."

Pitching matchup
NYY: LHP CC Sabathia (1-1, 4.50 ERA)
Sabathia draws the call for the first game at the new Yankee Stadium, coming in hot on the afterglow of a sparkling performance against the Royals in his second start as a Yankee. The difference from his Opening Day start came with a tweak from the bullpen, where Sabathia plants his right foot sooner and stays on top of his fastball better.

CLE: LHP Cliff Lee (0-2, 9.90 ERA)
Lee has become just the second Cy Young winner in the past 10 years to lose both of his first two starts the following season (Roy Halladay was the other, in 2004). Already, Lee has given up 11 runs on 17 hits in 10 innings. He didn't give up his 11th run last season until his eighth start and 59th inning pitched. Lee showed some improvement against the Blue Jays on Saturday, but he still lasted only five innings, allowing four runs on seven hits, walking four and striking out five. Lee needs to improve his fastball command to become more efficient. He is 3-3 with a 5.63 ERA in seven career starts against the Yankees, but he blanked them for seven innings in a win at New York last April.

Tidbits
Girardi said that third baseman Alex Rodriguez could begin to take batting practice as soon as this weekend. ... Girardi said he expects to play Cody Ransom on Thursday after giving A-Rod's temporary replacement two games off in St. Petersburg. Ransom is batting .083 (2-for-24) with a double in seven games. ... Girardi also said he'll consider playing Hideki Matsui on Thursday. Matsui is 4-for-12 (.333) with two doubles lifetime against Lee. ... According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Nick Swisher had the most extra-base hits (nine) of any player in club history through the first eight games of his Yankees career. Roger Maris (1960) held the record previously with seven.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• YES, MLB Network

On radio
• WCBS 880, 92.7 WQBU (Español)

Up next
• Friday: Yankees (Joba Chamberlain, 0-0, 1.50) vs. Indians (Anthony Reyes, 1-0, 6.00), 1:05 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Yankees (Chien-Ming Wang, 0-2, 28.93) vs. Indians (Fausto Carmona, 0-2, 9.00), 3:40 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Yankees (A.J. Burnett, 2-0, 2.70) vs. Indians (Carl Pavano, 0-2, 16.71), 1:05 p.m. ET

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.