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Throwback CC start has Yanks encouraged

Left-hander posts scoreless outing for first time since 2013

ST. PETERSBURG -- On a night when the Yankees waited until the ninth inning to create their happiest moment, their most meaningful development could have taken place in the first seven frames.

Making his second start since returning from the disabled list, CC Sabathia seemed to roll the clock back with 6 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out six and receiving a no-decision in New York's eventual 4-1 victory over the Rays on Monday.

"To me, maybe the most encouraging part of the whole night," Alex Rodriguez said. "CC threw the ball as well as he's thrown it all year. Four pitches for strikes, and it's not just about speed, it's throwing the ball with conviction. Tremendous performance by CC. Very encouraging."

It has been a difficult season for Sabathia, who is 4-9 with a 4.93 ERA in 26 starts, but a strong finish could patch over a lot of those ugly outings. He said that a protective brace being worn on his right knee has restored his confidence.

"I can get over my front side and be able to not worry if it's going to hurt on this pitch or this pitch," said Sabathia, who spent 16 days on the disabled list last month with right knee inflammation. "I'm able to just let it fly, and I think that's the biggest thing."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he thought Sabathia's sinker was "tremendous" in the three-hit performance, and that he used his breaking ball well. Sabathia's best work may have come in the second inning, when he wriggled free of a bases-loaded, one-out jam.

"The three starts before he got hurt, he was throwing the ball pretty well, and now it seems like the knee brace has helped," Girardi said. "He's kind of picked up where he left off there."

The Yankees need the big lefty more than ever following what may have been a season-ending injury for right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, and Sabathia's effort on Monday suggested that he still has something in the tank to offer.

"[My sinker] helped me a lot. I think that and the changeup was a lot better today," Sabathia said. "I got a lot of them swinging through the two-seamer a lot. The changeup worked later in the game. Hopefully I can just keep going off that momentum and keep pitching well."

The 6 2/3 innings marked Sabathia's first scoreless start since April 7, 2013, at Detroit, with 63 starts in between.

"Really, really, really good to see," Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said. "We need him to continue to do that. Maybe not throw seven shutout or whatever he did, that's asking a little much, but he just looked really good. We need him to continue to build off that."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.
Read More: New York Yankees, CC Sabathia