• Pineda to No. 5, Tanaka to April 4

  • By Wallace Matthews | March 24, 2014 3:04:35 PM PDT

TAMPA, Fla. -- Joe Girardi has not officially announced it yet, but Michael Pineda has won the Yankees No. 5 starter's job, completing a successful comeback from major shoulder surgery in a little less than two years.

Also, as I strongly speculated in a blog post on March 15, Masahiro Tanaka will be held back until Game 4 of the regular season, making his major league debut against the Blue Jays in Toronto on April 4.

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AP Photo/Kathy Willens
Michael Pineda has won a spot in the Yankees' rotation, it seems.
This much could be gleaned from a cryptic but revealing conversation with Girardi following Ivan Nova's minor league start at the Himes Complex on Monday morning. (Nova pitched eight shutout innings, allowed four hits and struck out 10.)

Girardi was playing it coy for one important reason: Like all good managers of people, he would prefer his employees hear about personnel decisions directly from him, and not via a website or some social media outlet. And since the Yankees are off today, he had not yet been able to contact all the involved parties to explain his decisions.

But here's how I know:

When he was asked for Tuesday night's starter against the Phillies, Girardi said, "We have one but we haven't announced it yet."

Since it is David Phelps' turn to start, Girardi's reluctance to confirm it seems to indicate Phelps will not be starting, but will work out of the bullpen to prepare him for his new role.

Then, when asked if the three "losers" in the No. 5 competition -- Phelps, Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren -- are all technically still in the running, Girardi said, "It's possible."

Taken a step further, Girardi was then asked if he could use Pineda out of the bullpen. "I didn’t say that," Girardi said. "He’s never thrown in the bullpen."

Then Girardi added, "I would love to tell you everything, but I haven’t talked to the guys and it’s not fair."

But in fact, he did.

Girardi then announced his rotation for the final four games of the spring: Chris Leroux (who is not in the running for a starting job) on Wednesday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin; CC Sabathia on Thursday against the Pirates in Bradenton; Hiroki Kuroda on Friday night at home against the Marlins; Nova in the spring season-ender on Saturday afternoon, also at home against the Marlins.

That would line up Sabathia, Kuroda and Nova to pitch the first three games of the regular season, on April 1, 2 and 3 in Houston.

Asked if anything could be read into that rotation in regards to the start of the season, Girardi said, "You can read, yeah."

Tanaka will also pitch Saturday, with an extra day of rest, although it was unclear whether he will throw to minor leaguers or, as Girardi indicated, flip-flop with Nova and start the major league game while Nova pitches again at Himes. In any event, if Sabathia, Kuroda and Nova are pitching Games 1, 2 and 3, that pushes Tanaka -- again on an extra day of rest -- to Game 4 against the Blue Jays.

That would ease two of Girardi's main concerns -- throwing Kuroda and Tanaka back-to-back is undesirable because of the similarity in their deliveries and repertoire, and Tanaka is still not completely acclimated to the five-man rotation employed in the U.S. Pitching Tanaka in Game 4 would allow him to get an extra day of rest two other times in April because of off days built into the schedule.

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Stacy Revere/Getty Images
It appears Francisco Cervelli has won a job with the Yankees, too.
"He's been bouncing back great," Girardi said of Tanaka. "But he had a pretty heavy workload the other day."

Tanaka threw 92 pitches in 5 2/3 innings against the Twins on Saturday.

Girardi also said the club was "pretty close" to naming a backup catcher, and it is safe to assume it will be Francisco Cervelli, who has had a monster spring at the plate (.455, four home runs, seven RBIs and a whopping 1.409 OPS). Cervelli caught Nova's eight innings Monday, and afterward Girardi was effusive in his praise.

"He came into spring training extremely prepared and has played well every time he’s went out," Girardi said. "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."

Asked if he and Cervelli had ever discussed Cervelli's suspension for his involvement in Biogenesis, Girardi said, "I wouldn’t tell you if I did anyway. He’s a good kid. He plays hard and he does the things I want him to do. He really cares about this game."

Sounds as if you can pencil Cervelli's name onto the Yankees' Opening Day roster as well.

The only decision left to be made, it seems, is who will be the second backup infielder, now that it appears Brendan Ryan will start the season on the disabled list. Girardi said Ryan, who is suffering from upper-back spasms, was feeling better Monday. But with only eight at-bats all spring, and none since March 4, it's doubtful Ryan can be ready by April 1.

In that case, Girardi needs to choose another backup shortstop to go along with Eduardo Nunez, who undoubtedly will make the team on his experience alone. Girardi's choices are Dean Anna, Yangervis Solarte and Zelous Wheeler. And although Solarte has had an excellent spring (.457, two home runs, eight RBIs, 1.141 OPS), the decision will likely come down to a bookkeeping matter: Anna is on the 40-man roster, the other two are not.


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