TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees' rotation battle has widely been considered a two-man competition for one final spot, with Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia jockeying to be the fifth starter. But manager Joe Girardi spun that idea on its head Tuesday, saying only two spots in the rotation were guaranteed -- CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda -- while the other four candidates were competing for the remaining three spots.
That doesn't necessarily mean Kuroda is the No. 2 starter, Girardi said, but the Yankees view his track record as too strong to consider excluding him. As for Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Hughes and Garcia, Girardi said they have to earn their spots.
"I think you have to include everyone. I think it's the only fair way to do it," Girardi said, insisting he wasn't just trying to motivate his pitchers. "In our division, and with the way baseball is designed, one game in the record column is a big thing. You're going to go with what you feel is your five best.
"I'm not trying to cause a stir. ... I'm just trying to make sure that when we leave Spring Training, we're taking what we feel is the five best. And to be fair, there's no guarantees."
Granted, Girardi had already said two spots in the rotation would definitely belong to Sabathia and Kuroda. But he remembered the advice he received from former manager Don Zimmer, who once told him to never guarantee any player a spot.
"We've got a competition here. We've got to iron out five spots," Girardi said. "And sometimes the five that you leave with aren't the five that you end up with. But we've got time, and there's no rush."
Joba progresses to throwing off mound
TAMPA, Fla. -- Joba Chamberlain graduated from being a self-proclaimed "half-mound All-Star" to throwing off a full mound for the first time, another checkpoint in his recovery from Tommy John surgery last year.
Chamberlain threw 10 pitches off flat ground then 16 from the mound early Tuesday morning. He had been throwing off a half-mound since Feb. 3, and while he admitted his legs grew tired after 10 pitches and he's still a long way away from pitching in a Major League game, he was no less excited about his progress.
"It was great to be able to just get up there and trust my arm and trust the work that I've put in to this point," Chamberlain said. "Just to let it go, it's free and easy, and there was really minimal effort to get it over there."
Asked if he felt like he had a whole new arm after the operation and rehab, Chamberlain responded, "Yeah, it really is in the whole realm of things. They fixed what was there, and then Dr. [James] Andrews went ahead and added some extra strength to it. It's a new arm for me. That's how I feel. It's a new year and a whole new chapter of what I would like to accomplish here to help this team."
Chamberlain initially claimed "it's not going to be three or four months" before he's back in a Major League game, then backed off that statement a bit, knowing that timeframe accounts for any setbacks that may occur during his rehab. When asked if he'd allowed himself to think about when he could be back if everything goes perfectly, Chamberlain said he would "do a Mo," referring to Mariano Rivera's unspoken decision regarding his retirement.
"I know the answer, but I'm not going to tell you guys. Yeah, I have it in mind," Chamberlain said. "I know the work I've put in, and like I said, three or four months can be realistic. But also on the other hand, it can be realistic on the front side of things."
Chamberlain said he would likely throw 15 to 20 fastballs Friday and add curveballs and sliders into the mix after that, but the most immediate test will be seeing how his arm feels Wednesday. He confessed it has been difficult to sit back and watch the team go on without him since June, but the Yankees could stand to profit from a healthy, productive Chamberlain whenever he returns this year.
"Thinking about the depth that we could have in our bullpen if everyone stays healthy and competes at the level that we expect them to compete, it is pretty exciting," manager Joe Girardi said.
Aardsma's focus on getting healthy for Yanks
TAMPA, Fla. -- David Aardsma isn't thinking about what he can do for the Yankees next year. He isn't too caught up in what he will bring to the table this year, either. The Yankees' latest addition is simply focusing on getting healthy.
Aardsma, who signed with the club last Wednesday, is recovering from Tommy John surgery in July. The 30-year-old right-hander last pitched in the Majors in 2010, and he appreciated that the Yankees were the only team pursuing him aggressively enough to sign him this early in the spring. He is able to play catch from 90 feet for five minutes and his arm has been feeling good, but he said he tries to avoid worrying about the specifics of his rehab.
"I think when you set those goals and you look at those dates, you determine whether you're ahead or behind by those dates. I just want to be healthy," Aardsma said. "That's my key. I know how good I'll be if I'm healthy, so that's my goal."
Manager Joe Girardi said it will be nice to have Aardsma's power arm and closing experience no matter when he returns. Aardsma has been eyeing the All-Star break -- about a year after his surgery -- as an ideal return time.
Aardsma expects to stay in Tampa to continue his rehab once the regular season starts, but for now, he will continue to pick the brains of new teammates like Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, whose locker is next to his, while focusing on his rehab.
"I'm eager to let loose. I'm eager to get out there and pitch. But I understand the time aspect," Aardsma said. "I understand that whole side, and we've got time. We've got a bullpen here that can handle themselves, so it's not like I need to get back as soon as I can."
Robinson Cano should be back in camp on Thursday, manager Joe Girardi said. Cano was excused from camp to return to the Dominican Republic. His grandmother passed away on Sunday.
Catcher Kyle Higashioka, a non-roster invitee, will miss "a few days," Girardi said. Higashioka was doing an exercise and injured his shoulder, but he isn't expected to miss much time. Aside from that, Girardi said, the Yankees have been "doing pretty good" at avoiding injuries thus far.
Girardi went out of his way Tuesday to praise the way his club's veterans have welcomed some of the younger players. While discussing catcher Gary Sanchez's development and acclimation, Girardi said, "Our guys that have been around make it pretty comfortable in a sense for a young kid. They kind of welcome them and they try to help them, and I give that room a lot of credit for what they do to try to help the younger players."
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.