Right down to the final game of the Yankees’ disappointing 2012 season, CC Sabathia insisted his elbow was not the reason for his inconsistency during the second half.

After having that left elbow cleaned out this winter, the big southpaw finally admitted that his arm may have been bothering him more than he was willing to acknowledge.

“It was always there; it was pretty much consistent,” Sabathia said. “I had some good starts and bad starts. I can’t make an excuse either way of why I pitched good or bad. It just is what it is.”

Sabathia pitched two brilliant games against the Orioles in their AL division series, including a complete-game effort in the decisive Game 5. He was lit up for six runs over 32/3 innings in Game 4 against the Tigers on Oct. 18, then underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow eight days later.

Sabathia has been playing catch, reporting no problems with his elbow. He is slated to throw his first bullpen session on Thursday.

“I definitely feel a relief, just having that range of motion back and not having that ache at the end of my extension,” Sabathia said. “I felt that right away, so hopefully I can just continue to get better and continue to feel less. After last year, going through what I went through pretty much the whole second half, playing catch so far, it feels a lot better.”

Sabathia went 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA last season, throwing 200 innings. The wins and innings were his lowest since 2006, while the ERA was his highest since 2005. He enters this season only nine victories from 200 in his career, but he’s not concerning himself with any personal milestones.

“Just trying to make all my starts and make sure I stay healthy,” Sabathia said. “After having the season I had last year, being on the DL a couple times, getting a little older, I just want to concentrate on staying healthy. Any kind of numbers I feel will be there if I’m healthy, so that’s the only thing I’m worried about.”

Joe Girardi is optimistic about Sabathia, noting that the lefty was not overworked last year after throwing an average of 240 regular-season innings over the previous five years and another 80 in the postseason.

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