CHICAGO -- Before the season, if someone were to tell you the Yankees would have six viable starters at the start of August -- without even making a move before the non-waiver Trade Deadline -- would you have believed it?
Probably not. But as they began a seven-game road trip against the White Sox on Monday, that's essentially what they had -- six starters, and ideally only five spots for them.
For this week, though, the Yankees opted to temporarily go with a six-man staff by starting Ivan Nova on Thursday, giving Bartolo Colon the nod in Friday's series opener against the Red Sox, pitching CC Sabathia on normal rest on Saturday and slotting Freddy Garcia in as Sunday's starter at Fenway Park.
That shifts the focus to Tuesday's starter: Phil Hughes.
Because Hughes has been hit-and-miss since coming off the disabled list, because he can be sent to the Minors and has experience out of the bullpen, because manager Joe Girardi prefers to have five starters, and because Nova pitched well in his big league return, it's easy to see that Hughes could be out of the rotation if he doesn't pitch well against the White Sox on Tuesday.
Girardi, though, is keeping all of his options open.
"I'm not going to rule anything out," the Yankees' skipper said, "but obviously, we have to make decisions."
Making his first start since July 1 in Saturday's split doubleheader against the Orioles, Nova gave up just two runs in seven innings to move to 9-4 with a 4.01 ERA in 18 games (17 starts).
Hughes, meanwhile, gave up two runs in six innings to the Mariners on Wednesday, but he also yielded nine hits against what many consider the worst offense in baseball. Prior to that, he struggled against another subpar offense on July 22, giving up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Athletics.
"I think it's too early to necessarily give up on Hughesy and say that he's not going to be an effective starter for us after what he did last year," Girardi said. "He's just basically coming out of Spring Training."
As for how Hughes would feel if he was demoted to bullpen duty once again?
"I'd be disappointed, for sure," Hughes said. "But I've always been in the position where I'm willing to help this team whatever way I can. At this time, it's not really something I'm thinking about."
The six-man rotation does have its benefits.
This week, for example, Colon and Garcia will be pitching on extra rest, which can only be a good thing for veteran arms this late in a season. But the Yankees would also like to give Sabathia his regular turn in the rotation each time, and that becomes rather tricky when juggling six starters.
Girardi would ideally like to trim his rotation to five before next Monday's off-day, but he left open the possibility of continuing with six starters even after that. Also looming is another split doubleheader on Aug. 27.
Whether Nova or Hughes go back to the Minors, or one of them is used out of the 'pen, Girardi insists he's not basing his decision on one turn through.
"What we try not to do is we try not to look at things in a snapshot," Girardi said. "You've got to look at things over the long haul and [evaluate] what you see. Sometimes people want immediate results, and sometimes they don't get immediate results. Those are the tough decisions that we have to make."
Jeter out of lineup with bruised finger
CHICAGO -- Not surprisingly, Derek Jeter proclaimed he was healthy enough to be in the Yankees' starting lineup one day after leaving early with a bruised right middle finger.
And not surprisingly, Yankees manager Joe Girardi opted to give his shortstop a day to heal.
"I'm not surprised," Jeter said of being held out of the lineup for Monday's series opener against the White Sox. "An extra day will help, because you use your hands to do everything -- hit, throw ... but, no, I can play."
During Sunday's 4-2 win over the Orioles at Yankee Stadium, Jeter took a Jake Arrieta fastball to the knuckle of his right middle finger in the bottom of the third, then was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fourth.
X-rays on the finger came back negative, but since it's the same one that he hurt while fielding a grounder one night earlier, there was some level of concern that Jeter could miss at least a game.
Girardi feels it would only be one game, and Jeter would return to his lineup on Tuesday.
"He told me he felt better today, which I thought was good," Girardi said. "But if I'm going to give him a day on this trip somewhere, today is probably the day to do it, just because he was sore yesterday -- we had to bring him out of the game -- so it just gives him a chance to heal."
Jeter, who stayed away from baseball activities prior to the game, was able to bend the finger rather freely and didn't seem particularly sore. He said he could make an appearance on Monday if needed.
"It's really not that big of a deal," Jeter said. "I've been hit a lot on my fingers, so it's fine."
Against Jake Peavy at U.S. Cellular Field, Eduardo Nunez got the start at shortstop -- batting eighth -- with Francisco Cervelli in the No. 9 spot, spelling Russell Martin behind the plate. Curtis Granderson was back in the No. 2 spot, behind Brett Gardner.
Jeter, batting .268 with four homers and 36 RBIs in 84 games, is tied with Rafael Palmeiro for 24th on the all-time hits list with 3,020.
Cervelli building strong rapport with CC
CHICAGO -- They're definitely an odd couple. CC Sabathia is the calm, composed, laid-back veteran; Francisco Cervelli is the exuberant, energetic, upbeat youngster. But the two have worked pretty well together while teaming up in three of Sabathia's last four starts.
In a 3-2 win for the Yankees over the White Sox on Monday night, Sabathia gave up 10 hits but yielded only two runs and stranded seven runners in scoring position.
Sabathia didn't state a preference, but he said their different personas make them a good mix on the field.
"He has a lot of energy," Sabathia said of Cervelli. "He comes out to the mound a lot and makes sure that I'm finishing pitches and trying to be aggressive."
Sabathia has a 2.33 ERA in 10 starts with Cervelli behind the plate and a 2.70 ERA in 14 starts with Russell Martin behind the dish. To be fair, with 16 wins and a 2.55 ERA, Sabathia would essentially be effective pitching to a net.
Cervelli hasn't been told that he's Sabathia's personal catcher. He just enjoys the times he's in the game, as evidenced by boisterous fist pumps every time his pitcher got a big out on Monday night.
"This is my game," Cervelli said. "I love this sport, and every time I'm there, I'm going to compete."
A-Rod to begin workouts on Thursday
CHICAGO -- Alex Rodriguez is slated to start working out at the Yankees' Minor League headquarters in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday. How long will it take for the third baseman to get back to the big club once those workouts begin? Manager Joe Girardi isn't sure.
But it probably wouldn't be too long.
"I don't have an exact day, but I'm not thinking it's going to take three to four weeks once he gets started," Girardi said. "That's not my plan. But we don't know. We don't know how his knee is going to respond. But everything's been good so far, and that's encouraging."
Girardi has been communicating with A-Rod on his progress mostly via text messages recently, and Rodriguez hasn't mentioned any pain since undergoing right knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear on July 11.
"I don't think it's 100 percent," Girardi said of A-Rod's knee, "but I think it's to the point where they think he can start doing stuff."
Heading into the opener of a four-game series against the White Sox on Monday, the Yankees had gone 13-7 since A-Rod's last game on July 7.
Rodriguez -- slated to get an evaluation on his progress by a physician on Monday -- has been recovering in Miami, with the initial stages of his rehab overseen by Dr. Lee Kaplan, who performed the surgery. A-Rod would have to play in at least a couple of rehab games before being activated from the disabled list.
The Yankees previously set an estimated return of mid-August for their third baseman. And if nothing else, Monday's news did nothing to discourage that.
"The fact he's going to start doing baseball activities on Thursday is a great sign," Girardi said.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.