It's two weeks from the start of the season which means it is time to start getting realistic about the Yankees starting rotation.
That means no more of the desperate pleading to the heavens that we saw during the offseason and it means no more of the baseless optimism fueled by the strong first couple of turns through the order from the exhibition season. Hitters are catching up with pitchers, guys are working deeper into the game and we're getting an actual idea of how things will look when they break out the pinstripes on March 31st against the Tigers.
What follows is a snapshot of how everyone stacks up right now, starting with the two old souls who seem like the best bet to fill out the five-man rotation when the games count.
1. Freddy Garcia - One of the two open spots in the rotation has always had Garcia's name penciled into it, but we're just about at the point where we can use the ballpoint pen. Everyone knows that he isn't the same pitcher who once starred for the Mariners, but he's got a bag full of pitches to use and he's had success with them in the last few years. If he can give the Yankees six innings of slightly above average work, that's likely to be enough for him to stick around a good long while.
2. Bartolo Colon - Colon hasn't really outpitched Ivan Nova to this point, but he's got three things working in his favor. One is that his diminished stuff is likely to have a short shelf life once hitters get used to him and another is that he has an option to become a free agent and/or sign with another team if he doesn't make the active roster. Colon's been good enough to generate interest in a league that's always short of pitching, which makes him a good bet to stick when the Yanks break camp.
3. Ivan Nova - The third thing in Colon's favor is that Nova could use a bit more polish before being thrown to the Red Sox and Rays this season. It would be better for him to get that polish as a starter in Triple-A than by working infrequently (or so the Yankees hope) as a long reliever in the bigs. With the feeling that either Colon or Garcia could have a short run, it's best to keep Nova ready to step right into the rotation when needed.
4. Sergio Mitre - An oblique injury all but ended Mitre's shot at a starting job and that's just as well. If the Yankees couldn't find anyone better than Mitre, this spring training would go down as an abject disaster. He'd be a better choice as long man than Nova, at least in April, but Mitre is getting close to the end of his Yankee run.
5. Manuel Banuelos - He's not breaking camp with the team. Not a chance. But if he keeps doing his thing at Double-A Trenton, he'll move quickly to Scranton. Success there means anything is possible, including a late season relief role as a shutdown lefty.
6. David Phelps, Adam Warren, Hector Noesi - They've all been sent to minor league camp. You'll hear their names again, perhaps as soon as Garcia and Colon's first starts of the regular season.