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Likely rotation: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda

Masahiro Tanaka pitches in the first inning of

Masahiro Tanaka pitches in the first inning of a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, Fla., on Saturday, March 22, 2014. Credit: AP / Gerald Herbert

TAMPA, Fla. - Joe Girardi indicated Sunday that Michael Pineda has won the competition to be the Yankees' fifth starter.

On Monday, Girardi all but gave the order of the four who will precede Pineda in the rotation, with Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka tabbed for the fourth slot. That means the 25-year-old righthander will make his major-league debut April 4 in Toronto.

Girardi said CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova will pitch in exhibition games Thursday, Friday and Saturday. That puts the trio in line to pitch the season-opening series in Houston starting next Tuesday. The Yankees begin a three-game series April 4 in Toronto.

Lining up the starters so Tanaka occupies the fourth slot is not a surprise. On March 15, pitching coach Larry Rothschild strongly suggested that's where he would be. Besides wanting to split up Kuroda and Tanaka, who have similar styles, it's a concession to the continued adjustments Tanaka is making to the big leagues.

The biggest of them, in Tanaka's and the Yankees' eyes, is pitching every fifth day, compared to every sixth or seventh day in Japan.

The Yankees will begin the season playing on 13 consecutive days before their first off day April 14. Assuming Tanaka starts April 4, he will face the Orioles April 9 at the Stadium and, after an off day, start there against the Cubs April 15.

"I think we weigh the schedule a little bit where he can get extra rest early in the season to try to keep him strong through the year,'' Rothschild said 10 days ago. "We've got the 13 games in a row to start, so that's going to impact when we decide to pitch him.''

Tanaka has not appeared overwhelmed, posting a 3.00 ERA in 15 innings in four outings. Utilizing a six-pitch arsenal that has earned praise from the Yankees and opponents, he has struck out 16 and walked three.

Girardi spoke to reporters Monday at the club's minor-league complex, where Nova pitched eight scoreless innings against Class A Charleston in a minor-league intrasquad game.

Nova continued his solid spring. Although Monday's results don't count toward his totals -- 2-1, 3.66 ERA, 21 strikeouts and two walks in 192/3 innings -- the outing still was impressive. The 27-year-old righthander struck out 10 and walked one.

Girardi essentially guaranteed Nova a rotation spot as spring training began, but Nova vowed to compete as if he had something to prove. He's followed through on that promise.

"He's pitched really well,'' an opposing team's scout said. "I don't know if he's a three, but I think that's more to protect Tanaka. But I like him.''

As for his fifth starter, Girardi said a decision has been made, but as he's done in past years, he'll inform the players involved in the competition before announcing anything.

Pineda hasn't pitched in a big-league game since 2011, when he was with the Mariners. He appears as if he's recovered from shoulder surgery, posting a 1.20 ERA in 15 innings (three starts, one relief appearance).

"He's shown us that he's healthy,'' Girardi said Sunday. "I think he's proven that to us this spring.''

Notes & quotes: Jacoby Ellsbury, out since March 14 with tightness in his right calf, is slated to play in a minor-league game Tuesday in Tampa . . . Girardi said Francisco Cervelli won the backup catcher competition. Cervelli, hitting .455 with a .500 OBP, remains a trade chip because many teams need catching help.

New York Sports