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BOS@NYY: Sabathia strikes out five on Opening Day

At 1-4 and off to their worst start since 2006, the Yankees will send their ace to the mound for Sunday's series finale at Comerica Park.

After their poor start in '06, the Yankees quickly turned it around and went on to win 97 games as they cruised to the American League East title.

CC Sabathia will try to turn the ship in the right direction against Justin Verlander and the surging Tigers.

The concerns surrounding Sabathia after his first start, in which he took the loss against the Red Sox after allowing four runs on four walks and eight hits in five innings, centered on his stumbling fastball velocity, which sat in the high-80s for most of Opening Day.

The 6-foot-7, 290-pound left-hander has typically started the season with slower velocity before speeding up with warmer weather, but even in the past two seasons, that early-season speed hung around 93 mph. Sabathia had elbow surgery in the offseason to remove bone chips.

Manager Joe Girardi said he isn't concerned.

The Yankees could use some consistency in their rotation. Their starters entered Saturday with the worst ERA (5.21) among all rotations in the AL. Phil Hughes tossed four-plus innings Saturday, allowing three earned runs.

"We have not pitched great," Girardi said before Saturday's game. "We had a starter [Hiroki Kuroda] get knocked out in the second inning with a finger. Our bullpen has struggled a little bit. Those are big parts. If we want to go far, that's what we need. We need our starting rotation and we need our bullpen. It's a little surprising."

Verlander, who picked up his first Opening Day win in six tries on Monday, has never begun a season 2-0.

The sturdy right-hander looked sharp in his first start, allowing no runs on two walks and three hits while striking out seven.

He's 5-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 13 career starts against the Yankees.

"I think from a competitor's standpoint, you want to face the best," said Yankees outfielder Vernon Wells. "If we don't want to get swept, we've got to beat the best. I think everybody in this clubhouse is looking forward to that challenge, and you know what you're going to get from him."

Yankees: Finding a shortstop
With Derek Jeter taking ground balls in Florida, still nursing his injured ankle, and Eduardo Nunez on the bench with a bruised biceps, Jayson Nix got the nod at shortstop on Saturday.

Nix botched a routine grounder and went 0-for-3 at the plate out of the No. 9 spot. He made just one error in 134 innings at shortstop for the Yankees last season.

Nunez could be ready as soon as Sunday.

"I'm lucky," Nunez said. "I was thinking I broke my arm, seriously. I never feel so much pain before."

Tigers: A unique lineup to face Sabathia
The Tigers plan to roll out a different version of their starting lineup for Sunday's game against the left-handed Sabathia, plugging in Ramon Santiago at shortstop for Jhonny Peralta (1-for-17 lifetime against the southpaw), Matt Tuiasosopo in left field for Andy Dirks and catcher Brayan Pena for Alex Avila (1-for-7 vs. Sabathia).

Pena, who spent the last four seasons with the Royals, is excited to catch Verlander for the first time.

"He really identifies himself with the Detroit fans," Pena said. "You don't see that a lot. It's something I can appreciate watching him. It's amazing how people respond to him, and that means a lot."

Worth noting
• After allowing 10 earned runs in 14 innings over the first four games, the Tigers' bullpen shut the door on Saturday. Al Alburquerque, Darin Downs and Joaquin Benoit combined for four shutout innings.

• Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are a combined 14-for-37 against Sabathia, with three homers and 15 RBIs.

• Robinson Cano and Kevin Youkilis, the Yankees' second and third hitters in Saturday's lineup, are each batting .226 or lower in 30-plus at-bats against Verlander.

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