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Joe Girardi has no simple answers for Yankees' bullpen

Joe Girardi takes the field at Steinbrenner Field

Joe Girardi takes the field at Steinbrenner Field on Feb. 15, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

TAMPA, Fla. - Joe Girardi has his preferences, as does every manager.

And when it comes to a bullpen, the fewer question marks, the better.

In past years, Girardi has had only a few spots to fill in spring training. This clearly isn't one of those years.

"We expect Robby to be our closer, Matt Thornton to be our situational lefthander and after that, it's kind of pretty open," Girardi said Sunday.

Shawn Kelley struck out 71 and walked 23 in 531/3 innings with a 4.39 ERA last season, and the righthander figures to get the first crack at being Robertson's setup man.

"I think if you were able to draw it up now, I think you would say that because of his experience and his ability to strike people out," Girardi said. "He had a pretty good year for us last year."

Beyond those three, it's a wide-open competition. The loser -- or losers, depending on who they are -- of the battle for the fifth starter spot could end up in the bullpen. Among those competing are Michael Pineda, Vidal Nuño, Adam Warren and David Phelps.

Lefthander Manny Banuelos, coming off Tommy John surgery that cost him all of 2013, likely is headed for the Triple-A rotation, but Girardi didn't rule him out of bullpen consideration. Non-roster invitees Matt Daley, a Garden City High School graduate, and Jim Miller have big-league experience and will get a look.

One dark-horse name to remember is Danny Burawa, a righthander from Rocky Point High School and St. John's who raised some eyebrows two years ago in spring training before tearing an oblique muscle.

Also keep an eye on Jose Ramirez, a hard-throwing 24-year-old righthander who spent last season in Double-A before earning a promotion to Triple-A and is well-liked by the front office.

"You'd like to have a guy that you could say, OK, this is your job," Girardi said of sorting out reliever roles. "It's not always that simple."

Tanaka adjusts to media

One adjustment that Masahiro Tanaka didn't consider when he signed with the Yankees was the presence of reporters in the clubhouse, something that doesn't occur in his native country.

"Obviously, it was something I wasn't accustomed to in Japan," Tanaka said. "So a little bit of shock, but no problem."

Tanaka drew some unflattering reports Saturday when he quickly became winded in a one-mile run.

So how did Sunday's running go?

"Today was short distance, so no problem at all," Tanaka said to laughter.


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