MLB Spring Training 2012: Yankees' Joe Girardi Has a Tough Decision to Make

Bill Ford@billfordwritesCorrespondent IIIMarch 30, 2012

MLB Spring Training 2012: Yankees' Joe Girardi Has a Tough Decision to Make

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    New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi has had the entire spring training to observe and evaluate all of the candidates for the starting pitching rotation. The time has arrived for Girardi to make his decision, and this one will be difficult.

    The Yankees currently have six pitchers to choose from to fill the five spots on the rotation. CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda have guaranteed positions, so that leaves three spots that remain, and four pitchers available to choose from.

    This decision is going to be stressful for Girardi, as he evaluates all of the data and information generated from spring training performances.

    He has an open mind, and even if he has an initial decision made already, he is open to changing his mind.

    Girardi knows that all of the candidates can contribute positively and effectively, and if it appears that he makes the wrong decision, he has the ability to make changes.

    One of the qualities that Girardi looks for in a potential starter is the ability to constantly improve. All of the candidates have shown some improvement this spring training, which doesn't make this decision any easier.

    Girardi said that depending on who doesn't make the cut, he could fill a role as a relief pitcher in the bullpen, or he could be sent down to the minors.

    Adding to the stress and difficulty is the pending comeback of Andy Pettitte, possibly within a month. Complicated matters will become even further complicated.

    Take a look at the four pitchers who are in competition for three spots in the starting rotation.

Phil Hughes

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    Phil Hughes has made huge strides in this spring training.

    Plagued with injuries last season, he has come out with strong and solid performances and appears to be healthy.

    Hughes struggled in 2011, especially in the first half of the season, but he has demonstrated confidence and control on the mound in this year's spring training.

    He improved in the second half of the 2011 season with a 3.72 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP and a win-loss record of 4-2.

    His pitch location is more on target, and his velocity has increased. Even more importantly, his velocity remains consistent.

    Hughes, in my opinion, has earned a spot in the starting rotation and will prove to be a valuable asset.

Michael Pineda

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    Michael Pineda arrived to play for New York with a great deal of fan and media attention and with high expectations.

    Traded from the Mariners for top prospect Jesus Montero, fans were both excited and shocked. Montero was tough to give up.

    In his 2011 season with the Mariners, Pineda had a win-loss record of 9-10, a WHIP of 1.099, an ERA of 3.74 and 173 strikeouts in 171.0 innings pitched.

    Pineda worried many due to a drop in his velocity. But spring training is an opportunity to practice and warm up for the regular season, so it is important to realize that he may not be giving everything he has to prevent overexertion.

    Pineda's velocity will very likely pick up once the season begins. Baseball America didn't rate him as the 16th-best prospect in all of baseball in 2011 for no reason.

Ivan Nova

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    Ivan Nova is a young pitcher who has not reached his prime, but has a bright future ahead of him in New York.

    Nova has solid command of five pitches including a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a circle-changeup, a slider-cutter and a 12-6 curveball.

    He has a killer sinking two-seamed fastball that generates a great ground-ball percentage.

    Nova has a win-loss record of 17-6, a WHIP of 1.355, 124 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.86 in 207.1 innings pitched over his two seasons with the Yankees.

    Girardi said that Nova has improved this spring training, targeting better locations with his fastball.

    The 2012 season will be an excellent development season for Nova, whether he is a starter or ends up in a relief role in the bullpen.

    If he doesn't make the cut to be a starter, I can't see Girardi sending him down to the minors. He has too much to offer.

Freddy Garcia

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    Freddy Garcia is a Yankee veteran who has proved himself in the past.

    His velocity has increased somewhat this spring training, which is not something that Girardi expected.

    Garcia has impressed Girardi, pitching better than he was expected to in spring training.

    He had a good 2011 season with a win-loss record of 12-8, 96 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.343 and an ERA 0f 3.62 in 146.2 innings pitched.

    Garcia has a 2.92 ERA in four outings in the Grapefruit League so far.

    He is a 13-year MLB veteran who still performs well and continues to improve.

What Will Joe Girardi Do?

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    The tough question of who will fill the three remaining roles in the New York Yankees starting rotation will have to be answered soon.

    If Joe Girardi has already made his decision, he's doing a good job of hiding it with his poker face.

    The question has lingered for quite some time among Yankee fans, and they all have opinions about who should make the cut and who should be in the bullpen.

    The decision is difficult, because all of the options are of high quality. No matter what the decision turns out to be, the Yankees have a powerful starting pitching rotation and a strong bullpen.

    I don't envy Girardi for having to make this decision, because it will be a huge disappointment for the pitcher who is cut. But in the end, there really is no wrong choice.