Sunday, February 27, 2011

Who will win Yankees starting pitcher jobs?

Bartolo Colon went first in what Joe Girardi indicated will be a long battle for the #4 and #5 positions in the starting rotation for the New York Yankees, but the kid Ivan Nova was probably the most impressive.

The two leading candidates for the spots went first this weekend. Colon threw the ball pretty well, but he is so out-of-shape that I can't help wonder if he can make it through five innings without hurting himself or risking a heart attack. He does have the experience of being a dominant pitcher in the American League and the Yankees could feel compelled to turn to him if they are inclined to give the other spot to the young Nova. If Colon proves that he can pitch five effective innings, he will likely get one of the slots, especially with the Yankees powerful bullpen behind him.

As for Nova, we got a glimpse of the electric stuff Girardi and Brian Cashman rave about. When I saw him pitch live last year at Yankee Stadium, I was most impressed with his poise. He started the game on September 20 when they honored George Steinbrenner and unveiled his monument. That pregame ceremony was so emotional and electric, he could have easily gotten rattled. But he pitched pretty well before giving way to the bullpen in a big game against the Tampa Bay Rays. As David Cone said, he’s got to figure out a way to harness that powerful stuff to get through five or six innings rather than losing it after three or four frames. The youngster must be feeling a lot of pressure to make the starting rotation right now. But with fans like Girardi and Cashman in his corner, he would have to pitch very poorly the rest of spring training to not win one of those open spots.

Sergio Mitre threw a solid inning over the weekend and he could win that fifth starter spot, particularly if Girardi and Cashman feel they can’t rely on Colon to get into shape or Freddy Garcia to stay healthy. But I think Girardi really likes Mitre’s flexibility, and while that normally would be considered a compliment, I think that could work against him as the manager might view him to be more valuable as a bullpen piece.

It’s hard to imagine the Yankees going with two younger pitchers for those last spots, given the way they were burned in the past with a youthful rotation that basically fell apart before the season really got started. My guess is they go with Nova and Colon, provided he sheds more than a few pounds. But we really won’t know for sure for weeks. That’s what makes spring training a whole lot of fun, even though the scores are meaningless.

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