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Garcia looks like favorite for No. 4 spot in Yankees' rotation


TAMPA, Fla. -- Freddy Garcia, a late signee for the Yankees rotation, appears to be the favorite for the No. 4 starters' spot. But it's anyone's guess who might be No. 5 in a Yankees rotation with as many questions as at any time in years.

Garcia's non-guaranteed contract shouldn't be misinterpreted to mean his chances are slim, because in this environment of uncertainty his track record as a proven, durable starter and former All-Star stands out. "He's my sleeper pick,'' said Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, Garcia's teammate with the Mariners more than a decade ago and a big proponent of Garcia over the years. Yankees higher-ups similarly envision Garcia as likely to make a rotation that is surprisingly thin after the decisions of Cliff Lee to opt for Philadelphia and Andy Pettitte to opt for retirement.

Other execs aren't overwhelmed by a Yankees rotation that is really questionable after ace CC Sabathia and up-and-comer Phil Hughes. But Yankees GM Brian Cashman insisted, "I'm not concerned right now. We'll definitely be running somebody out there in the fourth and fifth spots, and we'll expect to win those days, whoever they are.''

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Sabathia is a rock, and he said Thursday he feels a bit more stamina after slimming down from a robust 315 pounds to a still solid 290. Hughes looks like he took a big step last year, but one competing GM said he'd be concerned about Hughes, as he "lost his changeup and curve in the second half.''

Hughes, a very mature 24-year-old, conceded that he needs to improve on his finish and be better with the changeup and curve. "I didn't throw the changeup all that much in the first half, and when I really needed it (in the second half), it wasn't there," he said. "I was stubborn for a little while. I need to be more consistent with the cutter and curveball, too. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it isn't. I need to make sure I don't let up on any pitches.''

But after Sabathia, Hughes is the least of their worries. A.J. Burnett was simply awful last year amid a string of tattooings on the field and unexplained scrapes off it (he had a black eye, cut ear and cut hand at different times). Burnett went 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA while hitting 19 batters, the most in the majors. New pitching coach Larry Rotshchild is being touted as a possible savior, but it appeared Burnett's troubles went beyond poor performances. He still seems to have the backing of manager Joe Girardi, as well as A-Rod -- though with nearly $50 million and three years left on his contract, there may be no choice but to support him. "He has a world of talent,'' Rodriguez said.

The Yankees better hope Burnett gets straightened out considering the uncertainty that follows him. After Garcia, whose history of weak springs will be weighed in his evaluation, the possibilities include veteran Bartolo Colon, youngster Ivan Nova and prospects David Phelps, Adam Warren and Andrew Brackman. New York's top two pitching prospects, Dellin Betances and Manuel Banuelos, aren't considered rotation candidates at the moment. As for options not currently in camp, the Yankees offered veteran Kevin Millwood, who's still a free agent, a non-guaranteed contract similar to Garcia's but Millwood has been holding out to make closer to $3-to-$4 million guaranteed.

"We've got talent,'' Cashman said. "We'll get something done.''