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Nova, Garcia will begin as Nos. 4 and 5

New York Yankees pitcher Freddy Garcia throws in

New York Yankees pitcher Freddy Garcia throws in the first inning of a spring training game against the Tampa Bay Rays. (March 3, 2011) Credit: AP

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees finally decided on their back end of the rotation.

Start the betting pool now: How long will it stay intact?

As expected, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia were announced as the Yankees' Nos. 4 and 5 starters Saturday morning by Joe Girardi, an announcement that in the last week took on the look of mere formality.

Bartolo Colon, outstanding throughout spring training, will pitch out of the bullpen.

"I've been working really hard this spring to be here," Garcia said. "I think they made the right decision."

Nova and Garcia entered spring training as the favorites, and Colon's surprising performance -- a 2.40 ERA, 17 strikeouts and one walk in 15 innings -- wasn't enough to change that.

In the long term, the rotation isn't likely to remain as currently constituted. The Yankees have high hopes for Nova, 24, but the fifth-starter spot is more a case of treading water until the trade market develops.

"I'm never going to be comfortable unless we're the last team standing," general manager Brian Cashman said Friday before the rotation decisions were made. "Ultimately, I feel we've had a good camp thus far, I feel we have some quality choices in-house, but my job is always to find people who are better."

Girardi sees Colon, 37, who hasn't pitched in a major-league game since 2009, as possibly filling the role Alfredo Aceves did in 2009. He could get one batter, go three innings or make a spot start. It was a flexibility Girardi didn't have last year because of Aceves' back injury. "I thought Ace was extremely important to our bullpen in 2009," he said.

The Yankees traded long man Sergio Mitre to the Brewers on Friday for outfielder Chris Dickerson. Colon may have questionable durability, and he has made only three career relief appearances, but Girardi doesn't see turning the role over to him as a huge risk.

"You feel not asking him to throw 200 innings, it might be easier on him physically," Girardi said. "We will make sure we use him properly and we don't abuse him and we don't throw him [multiple] days in a row. We understand that this is something he's never really done a whole lot of. So we have to be smart about it."

Picking Garcia was a case of going with a known quantity. He went 12-6 with a 4.64 ERA last season with the White Sox, throwing 157 innings.

Garcia hasn't been overwhelming in four exhibition starts, posting a 5.93 ERA, but it's been an improvement over his past spring training efforts. He bombed last year, compiling a 10.38 ERA -- and that was a vast improvement over his 16.71 ERA in spring training of 2009.

Is the fifth spot essentially Garcia's to lose? "I think that's fair to say," Girardi said. "We'd seen what he had done last year. He had won 12 games, threw 160 innings. He had bounced back from his injury pretty well. And we felt he had a chance to get better because he was another offseason removed from the arm issues he had."

Garcia, 34, said he's as healthy as he's been in a few years. "I feel 100 percent in good shape," he said. "I feel really good."

Garcia's fastball has been mostly between 85 and 90 mph in spring training, with his offspeed stuff in the range of 75 to low-80s.

"That's fine," Garcia said of his velocity. "As long as I don't have any problems with my arm, that's fine."

Colon was the wild card entering spring training. "We had no expectation of him, which was kind of the strange thing," Girardi said. "If Bartolo had maybe thrown 150 innings [last season], maybe it's a different story."

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