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Many bidders for Yanks' No. 5 battle

Many bidders for Yanks' No. 5 battle

TAMPA, Fla. -- Phil and Joba, Joba and Phil.

And Chad and Sergio and Alfredo, apparently.

Though something unexpected would have to happen for Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes not to win the Yankees' vacant fifth starter's job, manager Joe Girardi continues to insist that Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre and Alfredo Aceves are all legitimate candidates for the gig.

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Call it motivation. Call it healthy competition. Either way, the three combined for six shutout innings in the Yankees' 6-3 victory over the Pirates on Wednesday.

"There seems to be so much talk about Hughes and Chamberlain, and the other guys are kind of under the radar a little bit, which is not a bad place to be," Girardi said. "We're going to do what we think is best for our club."

That almost certainly sets up a starting gig for either Hughes or Chamberlain, a bullpen role for Aceves and a sizable dose of uncertainty for Mitre and Gaudin. But as long as the Yankees are playing Grapefruit League games, every one of those pitchers has a chance.

They are aiming to make Girardi's decision difficult. In two innings Wednesday, Gaudin allowed nothing more than an infield single. Sinkerballer Mitre relieved him and fired two perfect innings with four groundouts, then Aceves -- with some help from his outfield defense -- pitched two perfect innings of his own.

Considering that the regulars for both teams played only half the game, and that pitchers are always more advanced than hitters this time of year, the early-March statistics don't mean much. But as the spring progresses, Girardi will need to make decisions on all three of those pitchers.

"The competition is there, but I'm not focusing on beating other guys out right now," Gaudin said. "I'm focusing on getting outs quick, keeping the team in the game and working on what I need to work on for the season."

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In the main competition, Chamberlain and Hughes are scheduled to pitch on Friday. Between now and then, Girardi will have some time to absorb the results of Wednesday's undercard.

The Yankees could potentially make room for two of the three pitchers in the bullpen, assuming none of them wins the fifth starter's job. Aceves and Gaudin would appear to have the early edge based on their production last season, but Girardi has given Mitre, a former player of his with the Marlins, every chance to succeed in the past. There's no reason to think he won't do so again.

Right now, regardless, one round of the competition is complete without anyone gaining or losing a discernible edge.

But the spring is long. And the competition is open.

"I think we talk about it enough that they know," Girardi said. "We told them coming in that it was an open competition. Their nature is competitive, and they're going to go out and do the best that they can because they want to be on this team. They want to be the fifth starter. I don't think I need to remind them."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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