Mailbag: Rotation job for Karstens?

Mailbag: Will Karstens make starting rotation?

Do you think it's possible that Jeff Karstens will be the fifth pitcher in the Yankees' rotation? He has shown nasty stuff and an improved fastball. He looks ready to break out.
-- Elliott S., Howell, N.J.

It's definitely possible, and Karstens is earning it, but I don't know if I'd go so far to call it probable.

The Yankees have not changed their original plans that envision Carl Pavano and Kei Igawa as their Nos. 4 and 5 starters. There is still a role of long reliever and spot starter to consider, with the Yankees planning to carry 12 pitchers to open the season.

That's a valuable commodity that manager Joe Torre lamented he didn't have at his disposal last year, and Karstens could be a useful consideration in that spot. Unfortunately for Karstens, he's looking at a Yankees rotation that is flush with heavy contracts -- the lowest-paid member of the five is Chien-Ming Wang.

For his part, Karstens is just trying to keep his head down and continue the momentum he's built this spring. Through three appearances, Karstens pitched the equivalent of a complete-game shutout, walking none and striking out nine.

There's no reason to think he won't be in the Bronx at some point this season, and it's not a stretch to imagine that Karstens will find his way into more than a few starting situations. If he's not on the Opening Day roster, he'll be among the first considered by the club when the need for a spot start arises.

If Torre wants Karstens in the starting rotation come April 2, who gets the boot: Pavano or Igawa? Pavano seems to have a good groove going, and I think he has something to prove. However, putting Igawa in Triple-A seems like a waste of money. Your thoughts?
-- Brian J., White Plains, N.Y.

Again, if I had to guess right now, I would say that Karstens probably would be on the Opening Day roster, but as a long reliever and spot starter.

Because the Yankees have Igawa under contract for five years, they view him more as a long-term asset and would be more willing to have him work at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre than a player such as Pavano.

I wouldn't entirely rule out seeing Igawa at Triple-A at some point this season.

General manager Brian Cashman has spoken often about the continuing adjustments Igawa will need to make to life in the U.S., and pitching in the Minor Leagues is a way to make necessary tweaks. Igawa has shown ability this spring, but consistency is still something he needs to tackle.

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Is Doug Mientkiewicz done? After his back surgery last year and his subpar spring at the plate, can he even get the bat around anymore? We have all been talking about Andy Phillips or Josh Phelps, but how about keeping both and getting rid of Mientkiewicz?
-- Andrew S., Fairport, N.Y.

I don't see it. It's true that Mientkiewicz's numbers have been unimpressive this spring, but his at-bats haven't looked that bad. He's had more than a few line drives smacked in there that could have easily have been hits.

Plus, it's still Spring Training. Jason Giambi is batting around .200, and Seattle's Richie Sexson is hitting under .100. No one seems that concerned about them. If Mientkiewicz is batting .045 on April 19, there's a legitimate gripe. I don't expect that to be the case.

Mientkiewicz is a guy who hit pretty well for Kansas City last year through excruciating back pain, and he said that he feels so good this spring that it's "frightening." Those seem like good signs.

Are the Yankees seriously considering Ron Villone for the bullpen? It just seems that there are a lot more intriguing options, such as Brian Bruney or Chris Britton. Both of those two were great last year. They should use Mike Myers just against lefties.
-- Daniel A., Brockport, N.Y.

Yes, in fact, it seems like Torre has done just about everything but pack Villone's bags for New York. If Villone isn't on the Opening Day roster, it would qualify as a major surprise. Torre likes the idea of having a second lefty in the bullpen -- it can throw a wrench in the batting plans of other clubs, even just having the threat of a southpaw warming up.

Bruney is likely ticketed for Triple-A because of his slow start to the spring, first with lower back pain and then a case of the flu that knocked him out of action. Britton is right there with him, even with his experience in 52 games for the Orioles last season.

The Yankees like Britton's potential but seem to feel that Baltimore rushed him to the Majors. Britton didn't help his cause by getting hit around in a Minor League game against Tampa Bay's Class A club on Saturday.

Do you know anything about Robinson Cano's new No. 24? Do you think Cano will keep No. 24 from now on? I want a Cano jersey, but I was all set to get the No. 22. He needs to pick a number and stick with it. So is it No. 24 for good?
-- Rick T., New York

This is it, for now. Cano yielded No. 22 in part as a friendly gesture to entice Roger Clemens to return to the Yankees, and it remains unissued for that reason.

But Cano also switched to No. 24 to honor Jackie Robinson, for whom he is named. No. 42 is universally retired throughout baseball for Robinson (it was grandfathered in, so that players who were wearing it on April 15, 1997 -- like Mariano Rivera -- could keep it), so Cano did the next best thing and reversed the digits.

What is the situation for the backup catcher? Is it only between Todd Pratt and Wil Nieves, or do Raul Chavez or Ben Davis have a decent shot?
-- Dennis M., Woburn, Mass.

I'd handicap it as being just between Pratt and Nieves, though Torre has mentioned Chavez a few times as a dark-horse candidate.

Nieves is regarded as the superior defensive player, but Pratt comes with the full endorsement of bench coach Larry Bowa, who managed and loved Pratt in Philadelphia, and has the ability to pop an occasional home run every now and then.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.