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Yankees rotation conjuring a question: When are Pettitte & Pineda coming?

NEW YORK -- Obscured by Curtis Granderson's three-homer barrage, the Yankees Thursday night continued their tryouts to determine who gets to stay in their rotation once returning hero Andy Pettitte and dieting newcomer Michael Pineda are ready for the show, and forever prospect Phil Hughes didn't score big with the fans (or even himself).

Hughes was booed as he fell behind 4-zip in the first ining, though he did manage to hang around 5 1/3 innings (his reception was better when he left) to grab the win a 7-6 game against the Twins, thanks mainly to Granderson's heroics. The well-liked introspective Hughes didn't give himself the best mark, either, summarizing his night this way: "Not a great outing.''

Yankees starters have been turning in not-so-great outings most of this young year, giving rise to constant speculation about who will be demoted to the pen once the admirable Pettitte and the ridiculed Pineda emerge. Hughes, an 18-game winner two years ago whose best work was still done previously in the pen, could be a candidate for relief duty once the others come.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. At least a couple folks inside the Yankees clubhouse castigated Pineda for coming to his first Yankees camp out of shape (candidly, he admitted to weighing 280 pounds upon arrival), and one remarked, unflatteringly that now that Pineda has finally gotten into playing shape he can begin his own form of spring training. Although, respected Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild asserted, "I don't buy into all that. Six weeks into spring training, no matter what shape you are in, you're going to throw it the way you can.''

Pineda, who was acquired in exchange for big-time hitting prospect Jesus Montero, couldn't throw it very well, mentioned shoulder soreness and was left behind. Hughes, conversely, had a big spring to surprise folks and earn the No. 3 spot in the rotation, but he has slipped back since the season started (but since only two of the six runs he allowed Thursday night were earned, his ERA dipped from an even 9 to 6.75). His fastball is better than last year, when it went missing, but not what it once was, either.

Anyway, Hughes (now 1-2) and cagey veteran Freddy Garcia (0-1, 6.97) look like the two likely candidates for pen duties once the reinforcements are ready, and while one Yankees person wondered aloud whether Garcia has anything at all left, the reality is he's gotten by with almost nothing for two years now. Rothschild said the issue in Garcia's slow start is really location, which needs to be very good when a pitcher has little to nothing.

No one Yankees starter has really pitched to their past performance yet, with Rothschild seeing ace CC Sabathia's issue as his usual early-season woes and Hiroki Kuroda's as a league adjustment. Not a moment needs to be wasted on the great Sabathia (1-0, 5.59), and Rothschild asserted about Kuroda, who sandwiched one stellar no-run game with two poor performances, "He certainly has the pitches to pitch in the league.'' Ivan Nova's numbers (2-0, 4.15) look best of all, though opposing batters are hitting .333 against him.

Yankees people aren't putting a timetable on Pettitte, who's 39 and took last year off, though a week or two into May would seem logical if he can do it. Team higerups have suggested amazing hope and faith regarding Pettitte, whose playoff pedigree is among the best in the game. Meanwhile, there's really no way they can have an exact timetable for Pineda, whose issues have been his shape and his shoulder and who was throwing five-to-eight mph slower this spring than last.

So while the Yankees have depth and will eventually have more options than almost anyone else, they still haven't found one starter who's really pitching great yet.


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