Girardi: Open competition for 4th and 5th starter

The Yankees may take a month or more to decide on the fourth and fifth starters in their very unsettled pitching rotation.

"The chances of the fourth and fifth starter roles being answered sooner than later are not very good," manager Joe Girardi said Monday as pitchers and catchers reported for spring training. "You want to see who we feel has the best chance to help us during the course of the season."

Candidates include Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, Sergio Mitre and Bartolo Colon. Girardi repeated that Joba Chamberlain is not an option, even though he lost his setup job late last season.

"We've seen how dominate he can be in the bullpen," Girardi said. "Joba has a chance to be extremely important to our bullpen, and I'm looking forward to that."

Staff ace CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J Burnett fill the top three slots of a rotation that will be without Andy Pettitte, who retired.

"I know that's going to be a question that I'm asked a lot about, our rotation, and I understand that," Girardi said. "But, that question is not going to be answered, really, until we get into the middle of the season. I feel good about the guys that we have here in camp."

Burnett struggled to a 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA last season, lost seven of his last eight regular-season decisions.

"I know how disappointed he was about some of his starts last year," Girardi said. "I saw how it affected him. He's made adjustments already with (new pitching coach) Larry Rothschild. I know how much A.J. cares. I've just got a feeling in my gut that he's going to have a good year."

Sabathia, who had surgery for a small tear in his right knee last October, is 25 pounds lighter this spring training, weighing in at 290 pounds.

Cliff Lee's decision to sign with Philadelphia instead of New York has left the Yankees scrambling.

"It's disappointing, but you've got to respect him," Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner said. "He did what he wanted to do, that's the bottom line. We tried to get him harder than anybody. We offered him more money than anybody."

Steinbrenner thinks the Yankees have baseball's best bullpen following the addition of Rafael Soriano and Pedro Feliciano to go along with strong hitting and a solid defense.

"Our starting pitching, hopefully, will come around," Steinbrenner said. "We think A.J. will turn it around. All our baseball people like Nova, so we'll see what happens."

"I'm not going to pick who I think will be the best teams, but I think we're one of them," Steinbrenner added. "There's no use in predicting. You play the games for a reason, and you hope you don't have injuries."

Girardi expects shortstop Derek Jeter to improve on last season's .270 batting average. The team captain agreed to a $51 million, three-year contract in December.

"We signed him to be our shortstop and we signed him to be our leadoff hitter," Girardi said. "Will he want to prove to some people, maybe, that he's not a .280, .290 hitter, maybe. But I think he tries to prove that every year."

Notes: This is the first spring training since the death last July of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. "It's going to be weird when you're sitting up in the box for the games," Hank Steinbrenner said. "The toughest part was the first month after he died. It had nothing to do with baseball. It was my dad." ... Former Yankees LHP David Wells is in camp for the first time as a spring training instructor. Lee Mazzilli is to report later to work with outfielders. ... Holdover spring instructors include Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Rich Gossage and Ron Guidry. ... Numbers worn by Pettitte (46), Joe Torre (6), Paul O'Neill (21) and Bernie Williams (51) are not being used.