By Sweeny Murti
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What does Opening Day feel like to Joe Girardi?

“It’s excitement,” Girardi said Thursday. “There are butterflies, just like you got as a player. There’s anticipation. You know that it’s the start of a pretty long journey during the course of the season in trying to get to where you want to be.”

In case you’re not aware, in Yankee-land that is late October.

*CC Sabathia is making his ninth Opening Day start (fourth as a Yankee). Believe it or not he carries a 5.40 ERA over the previous eight games (26 ER in 43.1 inn).

Sabathia has made 13 starts against Tampa Bay as a Yankee and has only won two of them. The Rays handed Sabathia two of his eight losses last year, with Boston handing him four.

Sabathia didn’t fare too well this spring, racking up a 5.00 ERA but he has learned how to separate spring training from the regular season at this stage of his career.

“A couple years ago a bad spring or some bad starts, I would let it affect me,” Sabathia said. “But now when I’m out on the mound, no matter how I pitched the time before or the time before that, I just try to stay in the moment and make sure I can do what I can that time out and throw everything else away.”

Sabathia never actually left the Yankees, but he did have the opt-out clause hanging over last season and the early part of the off-season. He eventually signed an extension and is now a Yankee for the next five years. Was he ever thinking about the opt-out last year?

“I never did because I knew where I wanted to be,” Sabathia said. “Had I been a free agent like in 2008, it was something that I did think about a lot. Just because I have a family, I didn’t know where I was going to be the next year or what was going to go on. But I knew I was going to be sitting here after last year, so it really had no affect on me at all.”

Sabathia and Mike Mussina are probably Brian Cashman’s two biggest free agent trophies. Both came with enormous contracts, but both performed at expected levels, perhaps even exceeded them. Both came with questions about how they might handle the New York spotlight, but both thrived. Yes, handing over the money might have been an easy decision, but we have seen too many times where that isn’t enough to guarantee success. It worked with Mussina, and it continues to work with Sabathia.

*Brian Cashman explaining why demoting Francisco Cervelli is not a reflection on Cervelli’s ability and why he needed to make the move acquire Chris Stewart:

“I think (Cervelli) is one of the best 60 catchers in the game, there’s no doubt about that. I just think that right now (with Stewart) we have maybe three of the best 60 catchers in the game. That’s good for us. Obviously it’s not good for (Cervelli) because one of them is out of options and it’s not him.”

“We’re better lined up now for this marathon because of this. It comes at his expense to some degree, but that’s part of it. I’m not going to pass up an opportunity to fortify us at the expense of protecting us.”

“It’s about depth. Chris Stewart is an exceptional defensive player right out of the Jose Molina mold…unfortunately Austin Romine showed up, got a back issue, we’re trying to get it resolved but it’s going to take longer than we wanted so I needed to protect ourselves.”

“If we ever have an issue here with Russell Martin with an injury…I do not want to try to (touch) my high-end prospect list (to make a trade) to fix something. I’ll feel much better knowing that I have a Stewart-Cervelli combination than whatever it would have been otherwise…I feel better protected going forward…that’s why I did it. And I’m very comfortable doing it.”

*Joe Girardi has often said how much he hates telling players in spring training that they didn’t make the team. Sending out a kid or a veteran, it all feels the same for Girardi, who cares about his players and is an emotional man. So how did it feel to tell a rookie like David Phelps that he made the team for the first time?

“That’s the good part of my job,” Girardi said. “I’m excited for him. He has an opportunity to do what he’s dreamed about doing.”

Phelps is the long-man as the Yanks break, and barring any injuries to other starters, he is likely to be the first one sent back down when Andy Pettitte or Michael Pineda is ready to return to the rotation. But for now it’s a great time to be David Phelps, who also became a first-time dad last month.

Phelps is a Notre Dame product, and at this time of year I am always reminded of another pitcher who made the Yankees on the final day of spring in 2001, my first year on the beat. Christian Parker was 25 years old and had a good enough spring to make the jump from AA and earn the fifth starter spot on Joe Torre’s three-time defending World Champs.

What nobody found out until later was that Parker pitched through shoulder soreness in order to make the team. On Friday, April 6, 2001–a 49 degree night in the Bronx–Parker took his sore shoulder out to the mound for his first Major League start. It was also his last Major League start. After three innings, eight hits and seven runs, Parker’s night, season, and career were over.

Parker told no one about his shoulder until after that start. He went on the DL and didn’t pitch in a professional game again until 2003. For the next three seasons he never got past AAA.

I sincerely hope Phelps has a much better and longer career in the majors.

*Part of Joe Girardi’s message to his players on Opening Day: “Just take a second and just realize where you’re at and what you’ve worked so hard for your whole life and dreamt about.”

162 to go. Enjoy.

Sweeny Murti

How many wins do you expect from the Yankees this season? Make your case in the comments below…

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