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Sabathia carries momentum into opener

Sabathia ready to keep rolling into '07

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C.C. Sabathia didn't really notice it on the field or in the clubhouse. He was too caught up in the ride to appreciate the journey.

Yes, to realize how strong his '06 season actually was, Sabathia had to step away from it.

"I got home," the big left-hander said, "and I don't know if it was my wife or my mom who looked at my stats and told me I was in the top five [among American League ERA leaders]. I said, 'Man, I had a good year.'"

Indeed, he did. Sabathia's 3.22 ERA was a career low, and his six complete games, including two shutouts, were a Major League high.

Those are numbers the Indians would like to see more of this season from Sabathia, who will make his fourth career Opening Day start Monday afternoon against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. The Indians received a scare Wednesday when Sabathia had to come out of his final Grapefruit League outing after getting nailed in the left forearm by a first-inning line drive, but they've deemed him ready to pitch the opener.

Though his numbers were impressive last year, Sabathia said the stat he's most interested in is that one to the right of "Cleveland" and below "W" in the standings.

"I don't get caught up in my numbers during the season," he said. "All I care about is getting a win for the team."

Now that he's had time to digest his own numbers from '06, Sabathia said he was most proud of his career-low walk total of 44 in 192 2/3 innings. He ranked 11th in the league in fewest walks allowed per nine innings with a 2.1 mark, and the low walk total helped him log at least eight innings in 14 of his 28 starts.

opening day 2007

"[Walks are] something that really came back to haunt me a lot my first couple years," he said. "But I really cut down on them. Hopefully I can continue that the rest of my career."

Sabathia hopes it's a career no longer interrupted by pesky oblique muscle strains. He suffered his first in Spring Training of '05, and it cost him the first two weeks of the season. The second came at U.S. Cellular Field on Opening Day of last year, and it cost him the rest of April.

This spring, Sabathia put down his golf clubs in an effort to avoid another such injury. Because he knows if he can stay on the field, he can continue to prove himself as one of the game's premier starting pitchers.

"If I stay healthy, I think I can only get better," he said. "I have to feel like when I'm on the mound, whatever day I'm pitching, I'm the best guy in the park. That's all that matters. If I can go out there and feel like that and pitch my game, I guess that's being at the top of the league."

And if Sabathia finds a stray moment to look, he just might find he has the numbers to back up that feeling.

  Indians probable lineup
 Pos.Name
1.CFGrady Sizemore
2.RFTrot Nixon
3.DHTravis Hafner
4.CVictor Martinez
5.1BCasey Blake
6.LFDavid Dellucci
7.SSJhonny Peralta
8.2BJosh Barfield
9.3BAndy Marte

Pitching matchup
CLE: LHP C.C. Sabathia (12-11, 3.22 ERA in 2006)
Sabathia has a nice history against the White Sox, especially in 2006. He went 4-0 with a 2.23 ERA against the boys from the South Side last season. For his career, he is 12-3 with a 3.64 ERA against Chicago.

CHI: RHP Jose Contreras (13-9, 4.27 ERA in 2006)
The right-hander makes his first Opening Day start and seems fit and ready to perform after struggling with back and hamstring issues at the end of 2006. Contreras holds the franchise record for consecutive winning decisions at 17, ranging from Aug. 21, 2005 to July 4, 2006, and possesses one of the best split-fingers in the game. The 35-year-old struck out 134 batters last year and has the ability to run his fastball in the mid-90s. Contreras holds a 2-0 record with a 2.98 ERA lifetime against the Indians and has a 16-9 career mark at U.S. Cellular Field.

Player to watch
Grady Sizemore had a rough spring at the plate, though the Indians were quick to downplay it. Given his incredible performance last year, in which he became just the second Major Leaguer in history to crank out 50 doubles, 10 triples, 20 homers and 20 steals in a season. What can he do for an encore? The answer begins to reveal itself Monday.

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

On television
• STO

On radio
• WTAM 1100

Up next
• Tuesday: Off-day
• Wednesday: Indians (RHP Jake Westbrook, 15-10, 4.17 in 2006) at White Sox (RHP Jon Garland, 7-4, 3.57), 2:05 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Indians (LHP Jeremy Sowers, 7-4, 3.57) at White Sox (LHP Mark Buehrle, 12-13, 4.99), 2:05 p.m. ET

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

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