LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Dude, where's Joe Girardi's car?

The answer, at least on Tuesday morning, was the parking lot at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. -- the spring home of the Orioles. And the Yankees' manager was none too pleased.

"We had an interesting night," Girardi said, re-telling the story for reporters after chugging his morning coffee.

After the final out of New York's Grapefruit League tie against Baltimore, Girardi couldn't find the keys to his rental car, digging in vain through the manager's office, the dugout bench and his own bags.

A scowling Girardi was forced to take the team bus back to Tampa, Fla., abandoning his personal vehicle in Sarasota. He said the last time he saw the keys was when hitting coach Kevin Long went back to the car to retrieve a hat he'd forgotten.

"He claims he gave them back to me," Girardi said. "I can't say he didn't, but I can't say he did. I checked everywhere."

Long is holding true to his version of the story, saying, "I gave them back. Maybe he's got a lot on his mind."

In any event, traveling secretary Ben Tuliebitz provided another car for Girardi to drive to the Bombers' afternoon tilt with the Braves and will now get down to sorting out the details with the rental agency.

Tight rotation race nice problem for Yanks

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Freddy Garcia has said that if he does not begin the regular season in the Yankees' starting rotation, he will have no one to blame but himself. A few of his teammates are making that proposition more difficult.

Garcia threw three perfect innings in Tuesday's 5-4 win over the Braves at Champion Stadium, striking out two in an efficient 32-pitch outing. However, it only helps Garcia keep pace in a race that manager Joe Girardi says still has "no separation."

Vying with Bartolo Colon, Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova for a starting spot, Garcia has done his job while watching his fellow hurlers do the same.

"They've been pitching good," Garcia said. "It's good competition in March. Hopefully I'll be there. I have to do what I've been doing."

Garcia has made two Grapefruit League starts and tossed five scoreless innings, saying that he feels better now than he did in most of his starts for the White Sox last year, when he took the ball 28 times and won 12 games.

"That's the way it is," Garcia said. "I'm that kind of pitcher. I don't really worry about if I feel 85 or 100 percent. I've got to go out there and compete and make it happen."

Girardi said that it is easier for a veteran pitcher to ignore what his competition is doing. In this case, Colon has allowed a run in five innings, posting a 1.80 ERA, while Mitre and Nova have thrown five scoreless frames each.

"You can't get caught up with what the other guys are doing," Girardi said. "You've got to worry about yourself and how you go about your business. You just let things take care of themselves. A lot of times, it works its way out. If you're Freddy, don't be watching what Bartolo is doing and Nova is doing and Sergio is doing. Be Freddy -- that's where your energy has to go."

Garcia was so efficient in spending that effort on Tuesday that Girardi sent him to the bullpen to throw 20 more pitches and reach his allotted count.

In Garcia's last start, the Yankees had the right-hander clocked around 88-89 mph, an improvement over where his fastball sat last year. The center-field scoreboard showed similar data on Tuesday, although Girardi warned that the house gun might have been spotty.

Still, Garcia was pleased, saying that the difference in fastball velocity would serve to improve Garcia's other pitches.

"That's good stuff, man," Garcia said. "If I can live with 85, I can live with 89."

Girardi would agree. He said that Garcia's veteran knowledge can help him compensate for whatever he has lost in velocity from his younger days.

"You're going to see Freddy do a lot of different things on the mound," Girardi said. "You're going to see him throw BP fastballs, splits, curveballs, sliders, changeups. He's not going to give in.

"He knows how to pitch. He's not a guy that's just going to blow you away anymore. He used to be that guy. That's not what he does anymore. He finds a way to get outs."

'Pressure off' after Brackman's debut

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Andrew Brackman is not in the running for a spot in the Yankees' rotation, but that does not mean he can't begin making his pitch to wear pinstripes this season.

Sidelined early in camp with tightness in his groin, the 25-year-old Brackman made his Grapefruit League debut with a scoreless seventh inning against the Braves on Tuesday, striking out one.

"The first one's out of the way -- they didn't score," Brackman said. "All the pressure is off. It's time to get rolling and get more innings."

Brackman had been an outside contender for a rotation spot, but the groin injury set him behind while several other pitchers have had strong starts. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said his main message to Brackman on Tuesday was not to do too much.

"I said, 'I don't want you trying to make up time today. Just go out and throw strikes and relax and go about your business,'" Girardi said. "I think he did it."

After a spring of firing batting practice and bullpen sessions in front of empty blue chairs back at the Yankees' complex, Brackman said he was fired up to take the mound in front of Tuesday's crowd of 10,750.

"It's different when you get out there and there's nobody in the seats," Brackman said. "The first time out there, you notice [the crowd] a little bit. I tried to get out there and just find my rhythm early."

Brackman allowed a single to David Ross on his second pitch but then got Matt Young to hit into a forceout. Brackman proceeded to snap off a curveball that Shawn Bowman swung through for a strikeout, then induced Martin Prado to fly out.

While the Yankees project Brackman as a starter in the future, Girardi said that it is possible that the right-hander's first taste of the big leagues could come out of the bullpen.

"There are a lot of young players that break in in the bullpen before they become starters in the big leagues," Girardi said. "I think that's something that you could definitely consider."

The Yankees' first-round selection in the 2007 Draft, Brackman made it as far as Double-A Trenton last year. He said he sees himself as a starter down the road but that he would be receptive to a relief role if it gets him to the Bronx.

"I would be open to anything to get me in a pinstriped uniform," Brackman said.

Bombers bits

Yankees outfielder Colin Curtis had his right arm in a sling on Tuesday morning and is out indefinitely. He jammed his shoulder while diving for a ball on Sunday against the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla., and called himself "kind of unlucky." On the bright side, Curtis added, "Sick catch, though." ... The Yankees expect Ronnie Belliard, out with a strained right calf, to be able to play in a game this week. Belliard injured himself during batting practice on Feb. 27 in Clearwater, Fla., and, as a second baseman and third baseman, he faces an uphill climb in competing against Eric Chavez and Jorge Vazquez for a backup role. ... Jorge Posada went 1-for-2 as a designated hitter on Tuesday and could play first base in a game this week. He has been working out at the position during practice and has appeared there in 28 Major League games -- but only for one inning last year, on July 3 against Toronto.