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New York Yankees 2011 Spring Training: Starting Pitching Questions Need Answers

Pitchers and catchers officially report to Spring Training Monday for the New York Yankees. Coincidentally, the pitching and catching situations are the greatest unknowns for the Yankees heading into the 2011 season. So, let's break them down.

Today, we will look specifically at the starting pitching.

If you followed the Yankees throughout the offseason you know this has not been an ideal winter for General Manager Brian Cashman or the Yankees starting rotation. Highly sought-after free-agent Cliff Lee, whom the Yankees had as their main offseason target, chose to sign with the National League's Philadelphia Phillies instead. Then, veteran mainstay Andy Pettitte chose to retire. That left the Yankees without 40 percent of the starting rotation they hoped to have in 2011, and how well they fill those two openings will go a long way toward determining whether the Yankees are back in the playoffs this fall with a shot at a 28th World Series title.

The rotation is led, of course, by CC Sabathia. The left-hander went 21-7 and pitched 237.2 innings last season. He had offseason knee surgery, lost 30 pounds off his massive frame and expects to be fully recovered this Spring.

Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett will also be part of the rotation. Hughes was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in 2010, his first full season as a starter. The Yankees will need another good year from him. Burnett suffered through a disappointing 10-15 season with a 5.26 ERA, and the Yankees will need him to look more like the 2009 version of Burnett, who was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA.

Behind those three there are nothing but question marks.

Ivan Nova -- A 24-year-old right-hander who went 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in 10 games (7 starts) for the Yankees last season. Given their current circumstances, Cashman has repeatedly said this offseason the Yankees would like to see Nova win one of the two remaining starting spots.

Freddy Garcia -- A late winter addition, the veteran right-hander signed a minor-league contract. He went 12-6 with a 4.64 ERA in 28 starts for Chicago last season, and the 35-year-old has to be considered a favorite to join the rotation. He is a far cry from the guy who was one of the American League's best pitchers from 1999-2004, but if he can still get people out the Yankees have a spot for him.

Bartolo Colon -- The former AL CY Young Award winter was another late winter addition who signed a minor-league deal. Colon has not pitched a big-league game since July of 2009 and has won only 14 games since winning the 2005 Cy Young.

Sergio Mitre -- The sinkerballer has been a long man, spot starter for the Yankees the past two seasons and seems to be a particular favorite of Manager Joe Girardi. Mitre also pitched for Girardi with the Florida Marlins. The 29-year-old has a 13-29 career record with a 5.27 ERA and would seem better suited to long-relief duties. Given the current situation, though, he will get an opportunity to earn the No. 5 slot.

The Yankees also have several young pitching prospects who might be better served spending another season in the minor leagues, but could wind up pressed into service in the Bronx.