TAMPA, Fla. -- Unlike previous spring trainings, Ivan Nova is virtually guaranteed a spot in the Yankees' rotation.
General manager Brian Cashman has said it. Manager Joe Girardi, too.
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The only one who won't say it is Nova.
"I'm still in a competition," he said Saturday morning after the first workout of spring training for Yankees pitchers and catchers. "Nothing is sure. I know that CC [Sabathia] is sure, [Hiroki] Kuroda and [Masahiro] Tanaka. I'm one of the young guys. I have to do my best out there in the competition."
Nova, 27, has been plagued by inconsistency, including last year, when he had two stints with the Yankees.
He was atrocious in stint No. 1, April 1-May 31, when he went 2-1 with a 5.16 ERA in six games and spent April 27-May 23 on the disabled list with right triceps inflammation.
But after being recalled in late June, he was a completely different pitcher, going 7-5 with a 2.70 ERA in 17 games (16 starts).
That was enough to convince the Yankees he belongs in this year's rotation, but Nova said he still needs to prove it, which is just fine with Girardi.
"We expect Nova to be in our rotation, but I love that attitude because you have to perform; that's the bottom line," Girardi said. "We're a performance-based business, so you have to go out and perform, but I love that attitude. But we expect him to be one of our starters."
Nova, who spent most of the winter working out in the Dominican Republic, said he's talked with pitching coach Larry Rothschild about putting poor innings and poor starts behind him. He believes that issue has led to some of his inconsistency.
"Larry and I have talked about trying to execute pitch by pitch, don't think about what happened," Nova said.
But his struggles, he also pointed out, aren't unique to him.
"I haven't seen anybody that's been in the big leagues [who] from the first day to the last day is consistent," Nova said. "Everybody goes through that. I'm still trying to find a way to be consistent every time. Hopefully, this year is the start."
Few prospects created the buzz that lefthander Manny Banuelos did in spring training three years ago.
Considered the Yankees' top pitching prospect, the 19-year-old dazzled with a fastball clocked at 96 to 97 mph. Even Mariano Rivera contributed to the hype, calling Banuelos the "best pitching prospect" he'd ever seen.
But injuries derailed Banuelos. Tommy John surgery on his left elbow ended his 2012 season and cost him all of last season as he recovered.
Banuelos said that at the time of surgery, he feared his career was over, but he believes his arm now is back to where it once was. And if he doesn't make the team out of spring training, he's fine working in Triple-A for his opportunity.
"Two thousand twelve I thought was my big chance there," he said. "But I have a big chance now . . . I feel normal now after two long years."