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Phelps, Nova pushing each other for No. 5 spot


DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The competition for the final spot in the Yankees' starting rotation has flown somewhat under the radar this spring given all their other injuries and issues, but David Phelps and Ivan Nova are making it interesting.

Phelps made perhaps his most convincing case yet Sunday, tossing five scoreless innings with three hits, a walk and three strikeouts in a 3-0 win over the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. He lowered his Grapefruit League ERA to a minuscule 0.64 and showed off what he felt to be his strongest curveball and slider of the spring against most of Toronto's everyday players.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Phelps looks like a more confident pitcher, one who knows he belongs in the Majors. And he should, after throwing 99 2/3 innings over 33 games (11 starts) with a 3.34 ERA last year. But Nova has pitched well in his two starts, too, allowing only one run on four hits and a walk while striking out three. Nova will start Tuesday against the Rays.

"They're matching each other basically inning for inning, in a sense, start for start," Girardi said. "That's a good problem to have."

For his part, Phelps said he's just focused on making the Yankees' roster, whether he lands in the rotation or in the bullpen. He has proven he can do both, whereas Nova doesn't have that kind of experience in the bullpen. After going 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011, Nova took a step back in 2012, posting a 5.02 ERA.

"If he wanted to pitch bad enough, he could learn [to pitch in the bullpen]," Girardi said. "[Phelps' success] should push him, yeah, but I would think that the struggles that [Nova] had is probably the bigger factor."

Either way, they're not making the Yankees' decision any easier. Phelps put forth another strong display of what he can do Sunday. Now, it's Nova's turn to keep up on Tuesday.

"We're not treating it like a competition. Everyone's out there just trying to make an impression," Phelps said. "If we're pushing each other, then it's a good thing."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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