New York Yankees: Who will be the fifth starter?

This article was originally published on Outside Pitch MLB.

A healthy competition is good for any ball club. And for the New York Yankees, said competition comes in the form of their final spot in the starting rotation.

With Masahiro TanakaLuis SeverinoMichael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi taking up the first four slots, the fifth and final starter comes down to an aging veteran and a inconsistent (somewhat) youngster: CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova.

2015 wasn’t kind to either Yankee. Sabathia, who has been on the decline since 2013, went 6-10 with a 4.73 earned run average in 29 starts. From April to August, it wasn’t pretty; over that span, the lefty looked like a shell of his former self, as he compiled a 5.51 ERA and gave up 136 hits and 83 runs in 138.1 innings pitched. However, sporting a knee brace over the final two months, he sported a 2.02 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 24:13.

On the other hand, Nova – who returned from Tommy John surgery in June, looked uncomfortable all season long. In 17 starts, he registered a 6-10 record with an ERA of 5.07. Despite averaging six strikeouts and three walks per nine innings, Nova gave up 99 hits in just 93 innings pitched. He became so unreliable as a starter that manager Joe Girardi moved him to the bullpen towards the end of the season.

If you go by the numbers in 2015, Sabathia would earn the nod as the fifth starter. However, Spring Training has been another ballgame for the hurlers.

While he looked strong in his first outing, Sabathia has fell off hard ever since. Still using the knee brace that brought him success at the tail end of last season, the veteran has given up 10 runs (six earned), 11 hits, four strikeouts and four walks over 7.1 innings of work. At the same time, his main competition in Nova has surrendered just two runs on eight hits, while walking two and striking out six in nine total innings.

And it’s not just the numbers that make Nova look like the better option as the fifth starter.

The further he’s been away from the dreaded elbow surgery, the more comfortable he has looked. Nova has had command in all of his pitches while displaying a sense of confidence on the mound, something that wasn’t seen last year.

On the flip side, Sabathia’s sad fall from grace seems to have returned. His facial expressions reveal discouragement, and that has been apparent in his outings. Although he overcame a personal battle in alcohol abuse, it looks like he is losing his grip on a professional one.

Manager Joe Girardi has insisted that the final rotation spot will come down to who pitches better, with no other factors being considered. However, it is tough to believe that to be true.

In the case of Sabathia, not only is being a middle reliever and mop up man paid $25 million absurd, but with the Yankees having no other lefty starters, Sabathia’s arm could help in games played at the hitter friendly Yankee Stadium.

When it comes to Nova, his inexpensive contract and experience – no matter how little – in the bullpen make him a better fit. However, looking to cash in at season’s end, he will be doing everything he can to be the best pitcher possible.

With about two weeks to go in Spring Training, it still isn’t clear as to which pitcher will round out the rotation. However, no matter how well Nova pitches, it seems hard to believe that Sabathia’s salary won’t impact his standing on the team. Expect him to be named the number five Yankees starter for 2016.

Dan Federico is the Managing Editor and Staff Writer for Outside Pitch MLB. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter or contact him via email here

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