TAMPA, Fla. - On a team with few position battles, the Yankees' competition for the fifth starter's job has gotten a great deal of attention.
And why not? People love a good battle, especially when a team has quality options, and there's not much to debate about spots one through four. The Yankees feel pretty set with CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez.
As for the fifth spot: In Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees have potential young studs. In Alfredo Aceves, they have a valuable swingman who wants to be more. And in Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin, they have veterans whom many teams would be pleased to have at the back of the rotation.
"Probably because of the number of people involved - you're trying to figure out how to get them innings - it does take up a little more of our time," Joe Girardi said. "But if we weren't doing that, we'd be doing something else. First base, second base, short - you don't have to worry about those spots. You go into camp knowing areas that you target."
But how big a deal is the fifth starter? "It's something we think a lot about," he said. "But I'm able to go to sleep every night."
A review of the Yankees' fifth starters in the previous 10 seasons shows it's often not that big a deal, actually.
Here are the last 10 pitchers who were the team's fifth starter out of spring training: Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Darrell Rasner, Jaret Wright, Kevin Brown, Jorge DePaula, Jeff Weaver, Orlando Hernandez, Christian Parker, Ramiro Mendoza.
Of that group, Chamberlain made the most starts, but many of his 2009 outings were truncated because of the Joba Rules. Wright was the only one to make a postseason start - and that was a disastrous 2006 ALDS outing against the Tigers.
Don't remember Parker or DePaula? It's OK. Each made just one start - Parker gave up seven runs in three innings, DePaula five in 61/3 - and neither had another start in the majors. Ever. In fact, that was Parker's only game as a major-leaguer.
Kennedy was handed the job in 2008, went 0-4 with an 8.35 ERA and never started another game for the Yankees before getting traded to the Diamondbacks this past offseason.
Rasner, an affable journeyman, made six starts in 2007 before fracturing a finger on a comebacker hit by the Mets' Endy Chavez, costing him the rest of the season. He went 5-10 with a 5.40 ERA the following season, his last in the majors.
Wright, Brown and Weaver were part of the failed attempts to find veteran starters in the mid-2000s. Hernandez was a key member of the championship teams of the late '90s and 2000, but 2000 was his last injury-free season and he spent the 2002 ALDS in the bullpen. Mendoza pitched in 14 games in 2000 because of a shoulder injury.
If all goes well for the 2010 Yankees, the winner of the fifth-starter battle will be in the bullpen in the playoffs. If all doesn't go well . . . then they'll have more important things to talk about than the No. 5 spot in the rotation anyway.
Hughes, the assumed leader for the spot, was supposed to pitch Sunday in relief of Burnett, but the game against the Tigers at George M. Steinbrenner Field was rained out. Hughes instead will follow Burnett today against the Phillies.
Chamberlain, who made 31 starts in 2009, will start an intrasquad game at Steinbrenner Field today. A decision should come sometime this week.
For Girardi and his staff, it's been a hot topic throughout spring training because of how it affects the bullpen. Does Chamberlain become the eighth-inning guy if Hughes win the job? Does Aceves, Mitre or Gaudin fill the long-man role? Or is one (or more) of them shipped to a pitching-poor team just before camp breaks?
"We don't look at as just the fifth starter," Girardi said. "You look at the staff combined. Every move that we make is not just based on that one spot. The other 11 spots in the pitching staff come into play."