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Yanks' pitching contenders keep it close

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- At his spring training kickoff news conference on Feb. 14, Joe Girardi said there would be no rush in determining the winners in the derby to win the Nos. 4 and 5 spots in the rotation.

After three-plus weeks into camp, the four contenders are making sure that's the case.

"I've said all along we're going to take our time and we're going to be diligent about this and we're going to discuss it a lot," Girardi said Tuesday after watching Freddy Garcia throw three perfect innings against the Braves.

Garcia's performance came after Sergio Mitre threw three scoreless innings the night before. In 20 combined innings, the four contenders -- Bartolo Colon, Ivan Nova, Garcia and Mitre -- have allowed one run, struck out 14 and walked one.

"There's no separation yet," Girardi said.

Garcia has surprised some by getting his velocity to 89 mph after a season ago pitching mostly in the range of 85. He, along with Nova, remain the favorites to land the open spots. "They've been pitching good," Garcia said of the other three pitchers. "It's been good competition. At the end of March, hopefully I'll be there."

Posada still a leader

Given Jorge Posada's competitive nature, talking to the catcher about his DH role this season was something Girardi didn't enjoy. "Conversations were difficult in the beginning," Girardi said. "I don't know what it's like to be in his shoes but I can understand why they were difficult. I think he's come to spring training with a tremendous attitude, a great work ethic, a willingness to share with the younger players. He's been a model citizen. He's been wonderful."

After a slow start, Posada has three hits in his last five at-bats, including an opposite-field RBI single Tuesday.

Extra bases

Girardi said the first cuts of camp are likely to come sometime this weekend . . . Mariano Rivera will throw live BP Wednesday . . . There was still no official diagnosis of OF Colin Curtis, who jammed his right shoulder Sunday against the Astros and is likely to be out, Girardi said, "a while." . . . INF Ronnie Belliard (calf strain) is progressing quicker than expected.

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