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Yankees Off-Day Notebook: Fifth starter decision coming Tuesday?

Manager Joe Girardi has made his choice, but won't announce it just yet
03/24/2014 3:40 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Ivan Nova pitched eight innings and struck out 10 in a minor-league game Monday.(AP)
Monday was an off-day on the Grapefruit League schedule for the Yankees, but that doesn't mean there wasn't action at the complex or news to be had.

Perhaps of paramount significance is the battle for the final rotation spot, and on Monday, manager Joe Girardi told the media that he has made a decision but will not announce it until at least Tuesday because he hadn't informed all of the candidates.

Michael Pineda seems to be the favorite for that job, especially after another strong performance Sunday; David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno have all been strong this spring as well, but they all have bullpen experience, which could work against (or perhaps for) them in this case.

Regarding the top four in the rotation, Girardi announced that as of now, CC Sabathia will start on Thursday, Hiroki Kuroda on Friday and Ivan Nova on Saturday to close out that Yankees' Grapefruit schedule, with the skipper adding that "it's safe to read into that order."

That statement, and that alignment, lead one to believe that Kuroda and Nova will pitch behind Sabathia in Houston next week, leaving Masahiro Tanaka to be the nominal No. 4 starter and pitch in Toronto. Tanaka as of now isn't scheduled to pitch another Grapefruit game this spring, but Girardi left open the possibility that he could pitch Saturday and bump Nova to a minor-league game.

Before all that, Chris Leroux will start Wednesday in Dunedin, and a starter has not yet been announced for Tuesday; Phelps would be on schedule after pitching last Thursday in Fort Myers and both Warren and Nuno would be on turn after minor-league appearances that same day, but because of the pending announcement, Girardi held off naming a starter.

A few other notes from Monday:

-Nova was on schedule to pitch Monday, but with the off day, he got his work in a minor-league game at the Yankees complex. Pitching for Advanced Class-A Tampa in an intra-squad game against Class-A Charleston, Nova was dominant, throwing 91 pitches over eight innings and striking out 10.

-Francisco Cervelli caught Nova and had a strong game on both sides of the ball, including another caught stealing. Girardi said that "we're pretty sure of what we're going to do" regarding the backup catcher job and the decision/announcement will be made "pretty soon, probably" before offering this on Cervelli: "He came into spring training extremely prepared and has played well every time he's went out. He's been consistent. He's done everything we've asked him to do. He's playing at the level he was before he got hurt last year."

-Jacoby Ellsbury, who has missed more than a week with calf tightness, will DH in a minor-league game Tuesday, but Brendan Ryan, who was diagnosed with a pinched nerve over the weekend, has no timetable. Girardi said Ryan "feels a lot better," but there's no indication he'll be ready to go on opening day, and if Ryan does see action this week, it will likely be only in minor-league games. Teams can backdate a disabled list stint all the way to March 21, but because minor-league games don't "count" as an appearance, Ryan could theoretically play in the minors at any point this week, be declared unfit, and start the season on the DL retroactive to that March 21 date.

-No word on the makeup of the bullpen, and that decision could go down to the wire. Food for thought: Girardi intimated that the three men who don't win the final rotation job could all end up in relief - reiterating only that "the important thing is taking what we feel is the best 12 guys" - and according to Chad Jennings of the Journal News, Yankees minor-league Mark Newman said Monday that the minor-league system has a lot of starting candidates in the upper levels, so they don't necessarily need to keep any or all of Phelps, Warren, Nuno, or Pineda at Triple-A to fill out Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's rotation. Logic dictates the Yankees would want to keep at least one of them stretched out in case of immediate need, but what's in place right now doesn't guarantee it.

-Speaking of the relief corps, though, in case you missed it, general manager Brian Cashman confirmed in an MLB.com/Yankees on Demand video interview last week that RHP Jose Ramirez, who has missed the entire spring because of an oblique issue, will be converted into a full-time reliever.

"Jose Ramirez is a power right-hander that's been a starter throughout his minor-league career, but because of injuries we're going to stick him in the bullpen," Cashman said in the video. "He has a chance to move very fast."

Ramirez, now 24, had a 3.67 ERA in 73 2/3 innings over 17 appearances (16 starts) between Double-A and Triple-A last year, but was shut down in July with an oblique strain and did not pitch again. He has good numbers over six minor-league seasons (3.72 ERA in 493 2/3 innings), but after notching 21 starts and 115 innings at Class-A Charleston in 2010, he has missed a lot of time over the last three years due to various maladies and still counts that season with the RiverDogs as his career-high in innings and appearances.

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