TAMPA, Fla. - David Phelps will start the season with the Yankees in some capacity. Joe Girardi has said as much. But if the righthander is enthused about the endorsement, he isn't saying so.

"In this game there's nothing guaranteed, nor should there be," said Phelps, 27, who made his exhibition debut Thursday in an 8-2 loss to the Pirates. "The second you start to think you've made it, you get a reality check real quick."

Phelps threw well in his two innings, aside from leaving a curveball up to Gregory Polanco, who hit a home run. Phelps, who is competing for the fifth starter spot but most likely will be a reliever, struck out four, all looking.

"The biggest thing I wanted to take out of today, I wanted to come out and pound the zone, stay down in the zone," Phelps said. "I didn't get behind too many guys and the fastball command was there. For Day 1, I'll take it."

Phelps missed most of last season's second half with a forearm strain, so Girardi was most concerned with how the ball was coming out of his hand. "Arm strength was there," Girardi said. "That's important."

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Extra bases

Eduardo Nuñez, scratched from Wednesday's lineup because of an illness, returned Thursday and said it was a case of mild food poisoning stemming from a piece of salmon, not the flu . . . Jose Ramirez had two MRIs done Thursday, one on his lower back and one on an oblique. Ramirez, a hard-throwing righthander whom Yankees talent evaluators like, came into camp with an opportunity to make the club as a reliever . . . Danny Burawa, who pitched for Rocky Point High School and St. John's, is scheduled to face the Tigers on Friday in Lakeland.