- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2009

“Big Slim.”

“Large in charge,” Chamberlain said Saturday morning.

Sabathia and A.J. Burnett - no full first names necessary - had their initial workouts for the New York Yankees on Saturday at the renamed George M. Steinbrenner Field, and several hundred fans showed up.

“Looking good, CC!” one woman yelled as the 300-pound-plus left-hander ambled through fielding practice on a back field, picking up speed as he headed to first - somewhat in the manner of a train slowly accelerating as it leaves the station.

Sabathia dresses in a corner of the Yankees’ spring training locker room, in the stall Mike Mussina used to occupy, and the fake window Mussina taped up to the dull wall has been replaced by an oversized Yankees logo.

Chamberlain is on Sabathia’s other side, followed by Ian Kennedy, Kei Igawa and Phil Hughes. Then comes Burnett, Andy Pettitte and, after a break for a television, Chien-Ming Wang.

New York’s projected rotation of Sabathia, Burnett, Wang, Pettitte and Chamberlain figures to be its strongest since 2003 - when the Yankees made their last World Series appearance.

“There is no back end,” Burnett said. “You’ve got five starters that can win, you know, 15-plus - I mean, you know, should.”

Really?

It has happened just twice in baseball history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The 1998 Atlanta Braves accomplished the feat with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Kevin Millwood, Denny Neagle and John Smoltz. Jack Chesbro led a 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates rotation that also included Ed Doheny, Sam “Schoolmaster” Leever, Deacon Phillippe and Jesse Tannehill.

New York’s starters underwhelmed with 59 victories last year, the Yankees’ lowest total in a nonstrike season since 1992. In recent years, Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano were just a few of the pitchers who failed to meet the lofty expectations that come along with the large salaries paid by the Yankees.

Players do know what’s required.

“I think you’d probably have to have your head in the sand if you didn’t know what the expectations were,” manager Joe Girardi said.

New York gave Sabathia a seven-year, $161 million contract, the largest deal in history for a pitcher. That same week, Burnett received a five-year, $82.5 million agreement. And the following month, New York swooped up Mark Teixeira as if he were dessert, giving the first baseman an eight-year contract worth $180 million.

While the Yankees celebrated, the rest of baseball complained the beast was back and whined. Milwaukee owner Mark Attanasio called for a renewed push for a salary cap.

“I’m definitely excited,” Sabathia said, “to be playing on this big stage.”

And he’s happy he’s not the only newcomer in the act.

“I’m definitely glad I got a guy like A.J. that we can kind of - you know, we’re walking in this together, we can kind of lean on each other,” Sabathia said.

They’re starkly different. Sabathia is gregarious, treated in New York as baseball’s Big Man, Clarence Clemons toting a glove instead of a saxophone. He doesn’t look like a baseball player.

Burnett is guarded and has a wilder image. His body is painted with tattoos, and he used to wear nipple rings.

Asked whether his personality will be comfortable with the amoeba-under-the-microscope scrutiny the Yankees exist in, Burnett responded: “You’re going to have to ask me that in about a week, OK?”

“I think I’ll be all right,” he said. “And I don’t point fingers, so if something goes wrong out there, it’s my fault.”

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