TAMPA, Fla. - When Mike Hargrove managed the Mariners and faced Bartolo Colon, then with the Angels, he was struck by what he saw on the stadium radar gun.
"I realized he wasn't throwing 98, 99 miles per hour anymore," Hargrove said by phone Friday from Goodyear, Ariz., where he's a special adviser with the Indians. "He was mostly 88 to 92, occasionally 95. But he used his other pitches, had good command of those pitches and pitched to spots well."
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Colon, 37, is in Yankees camp on a minor-league contract, among those competing for one of the two open spots at the back end of the rotation. He hasn't pitched in the majors since 2009, and Freddy Garcia, who went 12-6 with a 4.64 ERA in 157 innings with the White Sox last season, is the favorite.
But Hargrove, who managed Colon from the time he came up as a 24-year-old in 1997 through 1999 and then against him when he led the Orioles and Mariners, said as long as Colon is healthy, he shouldn't be counted out.
"He has a good idea of how to get hitters out, and a lot of guys don't have that," Hargrove said. "I think that's something he really developed as he went along - how to get guys out - because he couldn't just throw the ball by them anymore."
Hargrove hasn't seen Colon pitch in person in several years, but he said if Yankees bench coach Tony Peña saw something, it was worth following up on. Peña managed Colon during the offseason in winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
"Tony Peña's a very good baseball guy, and he knows pitching," said Hargrove, who managed Peña from 1994-96 when he played for the Indians. "If Tony liked him, there's obviously something there."
The 5-11 Colon said he weighed in at 267 pounds and would like to get down to 250. But he also said he's pitched at 250 and above since 2002, which would include 2005, when he won the Cy Young Award with the Angels.
Hargrove said Colon was always big, responding "the size of his legs" when asked the first thing that came to mind when hearing his name. But the second thing was "hard worker."
"You always had a concern that Bart was going to get too big, but you watched him work and realized maybe it's just a fact of his metabolism," Hargrove said. "He had the biggest pair of thighs I've ever seen in my life, but as a pitcher, you need that. I don't remember being concerned enough that we put him on a special diet or any kind of special program."
Joe Girardi has said all the pitchers competing for the fourth and fifth spots are on "equal footing," though some clearly have an advantage going in. Ivan Nova, who started seven games last season, has the inside track on one spot and Garcia is favored to grab the other. Of course, that's before an exhibition pitch has been thrown.
Even then, that's not a time when Garcia, by his own admission, distinguishes himself.
"I don't really pitch good in spring training," said Garcia, who allowed 25 earned runs in 212/3 exhibition innings last year. "Hopefully, I pitch better than I used to in spring training . . . This year has to be different. I have to go after it."
Girardi said the Yankees are "aware" of Garcia's past issues in spring training and that those game results don't always matter. But they'll matter some.
"You're going to look at a guy's ability to pitch, the type of hits he's giving up," Girardi said. "You look at things, but numbers are going to mean something. They're going to be part of the equation."