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Joe Girardi on pitching, Opening Day excitement

Opening Day, perhaps more so than anything else, symbolizes fresh starts. But for so many members of the Tigers and Yankees, the 2011 version is about something else.

It's about finally getting the opportunity to prove something.

Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland, each with expiring contracts, want to prove they've set this team up to deliver the first World Series championship in Detroit since 1984.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman, also on the final year of his deal, wants to prove he can still steer this team to greatness.

Several of Cashman's veteran stars -- guys like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada -- want to prove their best years aren't behind them just yet.

And Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera just wants to prove he's ready to move on.

Those quests will be long and drawn-out, but they'll all begin in earnest during the first Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, when the Tigers and Yankees begin the 2011 season at 1:05 p.m. ET. Getting the ball will be two guys who have little to prove because they're so consistently good -- Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia.

Sabathia will look to set the tone for a Yankees team very few see as an American League East favorite -- that title belongs to the offseason-champion Red Sox -- and some even consider underdogs.

It's a notion Joe Girardi scoffed at earlier this spring.

"I don't know if you're ever a New York Yankee [and] felt like you were the underdog," said the Yanks' skipper, who signed a three-year deal this offseason. "It just sounds kind of funny to hear someone say that."

But this offseason certainly wasn't a normal one for the Yankees.

After missing out on their No. 1 free-agent target, Cliff Lee, their rotation picture got even murkier with the retirement of Andy Pettitte. Now, the Yankees need Phil Hughes to match his 2010 breakout, A.J. Burnett to improve and somebody to surprise at the back end of their starting staff.

From Sabathia, they just want more of the same. The 30-year-old left-hander finished third in AL Cy Young Award voting last year, leading the league with 21 wins and posting a 3.18 ERA in 237 2/3 innings.

He believes the Yankees have enough in the rotation.

"Everybody is making a big deal about it, but I think we have the arms in here to get it done," Sabathia said. "Our first goal is to win the East, and I think we have the arms in here to do that."

The bats should be there, too.

Robinson Cano will try to duplicate a breakout season that saw him threaten for the AL Most Valuable Player Award last year, while Posada (.248), A-Rod (.270), Jeter (.270) and Mark Teixeira (.256) look to bounce back after uncharacteristically low batting averages.

For his part, A-Rod has had a phenomenal spring thanks to a finally healthy hip, batting .388 (19-for-49) with a team-leading six homers and 15 RBIs.

"I don't record Spring Training stats," he said recently, "but this is a pretty nice spring."

It's an important year for A-Rod, and at least an equally as important one for the Yankees' captain. Jeter, perhaps for the first time ever, is under heavy scrutiny after a sub-par season and a lucrative contract. Many now wonder if he should continue to hit at the top of the lineup and even play shortstop.

Extra motivation?

"I think the motivation is to try to win," Jeter said near the start of camp. "The motivation is to try to be a better player."

Entering his 20th season as a big league skipper, Leyland surely thinks his Tigers are better.

Much better.

"Put it this way: If pretty much the veteran guys do what their track record says, we'll have a pretty good team," he said. "I like our team. I like the guys. I like their track records."

Leyland isn't concerned about Cabrera's alleged bouts with alcoholism causing any sort of distraction. In fact, Leyland has said his first baseman -- who has finished in the top five in AL MVP voting the last two years -- is destined for his biggest year yet.

Like the Yankees, who gave Rafael Soriano $35 million and now have one of the best eighth- and ninth-inning combos in history, the Tigers gave another former Ray -- Joaquin Benoit -- a three-year deal to be their eighth-inning guy.

They also added Brad Penny to round out their rotation.

And they happened to land the best free-agent catcher and entrenched him as their designated hitter -- something Posada will be doing for the first time this season.

"I came here to win," said Victor Martinez, who signed a four-year, $50 million contract. "I want to win a World Series, and anything that I can do to get this thing better, I'm up to it. I want to do it."

The Yankees and Tigers split their eight meetings last season.

For the first one of 2011, second baseman Carlos Guillen and reliever Joel Zumaya will be out for the Tigers, while reliever Pedro Feliciano will be on the shelf for the Yankees.

Detroit hasn't made the playoffs since Leyland's first year on the job in '06, and they're playing in an improved AL Central. But they're as well rounded as any club.

The Yankees were two wins away from advancing to back-to-back World Series last year. And though their rotation holes seem glaring, their bullpen looks lights-out, and their offense -- as usuall -- is scary.

Trying to shut down that lineup on Day 1 will be Verlander, the 28-year-old right-hander who has averaged 17 wins, a 3.77 ERA and 33 starts in four full seasons in the big leagues.

After a lights-out spring in which he logged an 0.96 ERA over six starts, Verlander looks poised for another great season.

"I accomplished what I wanted to," he said. "I feel like I did everything I could. We'll see how it translates in April."

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