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Michael Pineda all but clinches fifth-starter job

Michael Pineda delivers a pitch in the third

Michael Pineda delivers a pitch in the third inning of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field on March 23, 2014 in Tampa. Credit: Getty Images / Leon Halip

TAMPA, Fla. - Michael Pineda said he used "Michael Pineda energy" Sunday in his quest to win the Yankees' fifth-starter job.

By Tuesday, Pineda should know if he'll be able to use that energy for real in his first big-league start since 2011.

After Pineda's six-inning outing against Toronto, manager Joe Girardi said he likely will announce his No. 5 starter Tuesday. Unless Girardi has turned into a master of misdirection, all indications are it will be Pineda.

Pineda allowed his first runs of spring training (three runs, two earned), but Girardi left little doubt that the 25-year-old's journey from 2012 shoulder surgery is nearly complete.

"I was happy," Girardi said after the Yankees' 3-1 loss at Steinbrenner Field. "I thought his stuff was good. He made pitches when he had to . . . I thought he had great life on his ball today."

Pineda gave up six hits and struck out two against a Blue Jays lineup featuring at least seven regulars. If he wins the fifth-starter job, his first start will be in Toronto on April 5.

In 20 innings, Pineda has walked one and struck out 16. He hit a batter and threw a wild pitch Sunday, but his control and command have been remarkable for someone who missed two seasons.

"I threw a lot of strikes today," Pineda said. "A lot of ground balls, which is good."

In his previous outing, Pineda shut out the Red Sox for 41/3 innings. He started this one with a 1-2-3 first, including two comebackers. Pineda used all of his 6-7 frame to snare an inning-ending chopper hit by Jose Bautista.

Pineda was charged with an unearned run in the second inning after third baseman Eduardo Nuñez threw away Edwin Encarnacion's leadoff grounder for an error. Adam Lind and Dioner Navarro followed with ground-ball singles to give Toronto a 1-0 lead.

After striking out Colby Rasmus on a high 90-mph fastball. Pineda hit Brett Lawrie with a pitch to load the bases. But he got Ryan Goins to rap into an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play.

Pineda retired all six Blue Jays -- five on grounders -- in the third and fourth before the first two batters singled to open the fifth. Goins dropped a bunt down the third-base line and was hit by Pineda's throw to first as a run scored. A two-out wild pitch made it 3-0.

Pineda threw 80 pitches, and his fastball velocity was between 89 and 93 mph. As a rookie All-Star with Seattle in 2011, he pitched in the high 90s, which is one of the reasons the Yankees traded catching prospect Jesus Montero to the Mariners to get him.

Now, after one more spring training start, they should be able to see what they really have.

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

David Phelps has had a terrific spring training with a 2.75 ERA in five outings. But his ability to pitch out of the bullpen -- and the Yankees' need for people who can pitch out of the bullpen -- have made the righthander the underdog since camp opened.

Girardi said the winner will be "who we think is going to help us the most and what we think is going to make us the best team."

Girardi continues to count Adam Warren and Vidal Nuño as rotation candidates, but both are more likely to end up in the bullpen or the Triple-A rotation.

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