With Andy Pettitte on the comeback trail and less than two weeks left in Spring Training, this seems like a good time to break down the candidates for starting spots in the New York Yankees starting pitching rotation for 2012. CC Sabathia, of course, is No. 1. We won't consider Pettitte for the time being, since he won't be ready to join the Yankees until a month or more into the 2012 MLB season.
Rather, let's look at the five candidates for the four remaining spots in the season-opening rotation.
Phil Hughes -- The former "Phranchise" pitches Wednesday afternoon and aims to continue what has been an impressive Spring thus far. In three games covering 8.1 innings, Hughes has a 1.08 ERA and has resembled the promising pitcher who won 18 games in 2010 rather than the guy who pitched to a 5.79 ERA and could never find his velocity last season.
There has been plenty written that perhaps Hughes, still only 25, did not prepare as well as he should have for the 2011 season, and scouting reports coming out of Florida are encouraging.
Valentine's View: Hughes has to be part of the starting rotation to open the season.
Ivan Nova -- Has had an awful Spring thus far, with a 7.82 ERA in four appearances covering 12.2 innings. Hitters are batting .296 against him. Nova won 16 games a season ago, though, and was often the Yankees' best starter.
Valentine's View: For me, this is a classic case of not overreacting to Spring Training. The guy went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA a season ago. Bumping him to the bullpen, or AAA, is stupid. He needs to be in the rotation.
Hiroki Kuroda -- The veteran right-hander has an ERA of 4.00 and batters are hitting .235 against him through three appearances covering nine innings. Kuroda seems to be as advertised, a good addition to the staff who knows what he is doing.
Valentine's View: The Yankees did not sign him to pitch long relief. He's in the rotation.
Michael Pineda -- Much has been written about Pineda's velocity this Spring, and some whispers that maybe he needs to lose some weight. Still, Pineda's velocity seems to improve with each start -- and isn't getting ready for the season the point of Spring Training? Pineda has a 3.97 ERA in four games covering 11.1 innings, and has struck out 12.
Valentine's View: The Yankees traded Jesus Montero for Pineda. They are not sending him to the minor leagues or the bullpen to start the season. He will be in the rotation.
Freddy Garcia -- The Yankees re-signed Garcia mostly as insurance, before they knew Pettitte would return and before they were able to acquire Kuroda or Pineda. He is what he is, a junk-balling veteran who is a decent starter and no more. He has a 4.50 ERA in three appearances covering eight innings this Spring. Garcia was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA a season ago, his best work since 2005.
Valentine's View: Garcia has to be the odd man out here. He can still pitch, but the Yankees have stockpiled better options. I don't see him as a long reliever, either. My guess, and my preference, at this point is that the Yankees trade or release Garcia before the season begins.
Thoughts on Pettitte
His comeback is insanely interesting. I really don't even think we can speculate at this point on who he would replace in the rotation when he comes back. Let's find out first if he actually makes it back. The assumption is that he will, but who knows for sure what happens after he throws a few times. Will he break down? Will he realize he doesn't have the necessary stuff any longer?
I think he makes it back, and pitches well. As for who gets bumped, let's cross that bridge when we get to it.