PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - The pitcher to whom Brian Cashman referred as "Secretariat'' in the race to be the Yankees' fifth starter is close to crossing the finish line far in front.

Warren made his fifth start of spring training Thursday, and although he admittedly didn't have his best stuff, he allowed the Rays only one run and four hits in 32/3 innings, lowering his ERA to 2.70.

"I came into the spring wanting to pitch well, and wherever I ended up, I wanted it to be because I pitched well, not because I didn't pitch well,'' said Warren, adding he hasn't been told anything regarding his role. "So I felt like I've gone out there and proven myself. It's been a fun spring for me.''

Before the game, Joe Girardi, although not announcing a decision that should be forthcoming in a few days, praised the 27-year-old righthander and strongly hinted at what it will be.

When asked what has stood out about Warren this month, Girardi said: "The consistency of his pitches, his ability to use all of his pitches. He's a four-pitch guy.''

Cashman tipped the organization's hand Wednesday.

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"There's a Secretariat right now in this race for me a number of lengths ahead of the field,'' the general manager said. "Warren's certainly got a big lead in this . . . If we had to make a call today, it would obviously have to be Warren.''

Warren had a terrific 2014 out of the bullpen, posting a 2.97 ERA in 69 appearances. But he was told to prepare this offseason as a starter, which is the role the Yankees expected for him when they drafted him in the fourth round in 2009.

"That's how we envisioned him when he first got here,'' Girardi said. "It's not unusual for guys to get their feet wet in the bullpen to start, and I think he's grown up a lot the last couple years and he has an opportunity to start this year.''

But perhaps to the detriment of the bullpen.

"Really good stuff,'' one opposing team's talent evaluator recently said of Warren. "But it weakens their bullpen. Tough arm to take out.''

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Girardi didn't dismiss that as a concern.

"That just remains to be seen,'' he said. "We have enough arms down there where if he's a starter, that shouldn't be the case. But it remains to be seen.''

As for transitioning back into a starter after a successful run as a reliever, Warren said he's not worried.

"I feel like pitching is pitching,'' he said. "I feel like I've proven I can pitch at this level. I just have to go out there and learn from some of the guys that have started and learn the mind-set of being aggressive, attacking always and getting early outs. But I feel like I have the stuff to succeed. It's just a matter of going out and executing pitches.''