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03/29/12 10:47 PM ET

Girardi: 'Sixth starter' not guaranteed roster spot

TAMPA, Fla. -- The odd man out in the Yankees' rotation derby may not be assured of breaking camp with the club, manager Joe Girardi said on Thursday.

With more serious discussions set to begin shortly, the Yankees have not ruled out that Ivan Nova or Michael Pineda could open the season in Triple-A, with Phil Hughes likely in line to grab one of the three remaining spots after his strong spring.

It is also possible that the Yankees, boasting pitching depth, could look to trade veteran Freddy Garcia since the right-hander is highly unlikely to accept an assignment to the Minor Leagues.

"There's no guarantee that the sixth starter goes to the bullpen," Girardi said.

Girardi raised the idea that the Yankees want to look at Minor League starters D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps and Adam Warren a little closer this spring, wondering if they could serve the big club in a long-relief role. Phelps turned in a five-inning start for New York in Thursday's 4-3 loss to the Orioles, while Mitchell threw 2 1/3 innings in relief.

"What's impressed me most about all three of them is the difference in Spring Training compared to last year," Girardi said. "Last year, at times, I thought they almost looked like they were a little overwhelmed or a little nervous to make a mistake. I don't question that now.

"What I've seen from some of the innings that these guys have put up, there's a totally different attitude from all three of them. That's the great thing; the power of going to Spring Training before you have a chance of really making the club."

Rapada, Cabral still in mix for 'pen spot

TAMPA, Fla. -- It figures to be a long week for both Clay Rapada and Cesar Cabral, a pair of roster hopefuls who have both made convincing cases to be with the Yankees as a second left-handed reliever.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has said that there is a decent chance the team will want another southpaw to complement Boone Logan in the bullpen, and both are curious to see what their futures have in store.

"We've both been throwing the ball well," Rapada said. "It's probably going to just come down to this last week. I feel like I've put myself in a pretty good position to have my name in the mix."

Rapada has struck out 11 and permitted just three hits and three walks over 8 1/3 scoreless innings, spanning nine spring appearances. Released by the Orioles in February, Rapada said the Yankees' established stable of starters was a huge drawing card when he decided on his next organization.

"For a guy like me, it's a plus having a sturdy rotation -- guys that can eat up six, seven, eight innings, where I can be utilized in a lefty role," Rapada said. "That was one of the big things, picking through teams. I needed to go to an organization where I fit better, as far as my role."

Cabral, a Rule 5 Draft pick in December from the Red Sox via the Royals, has posted a 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings over nine appearances. He has permitted 11 hits, including a home run, while striking out 12 and walking two.

"I'm excited right now because I've got a chance," Cabral said. "I did a good job and now I'm hoping something will happen. ... I'm not nervous, because I know I did my job. I have to wait for what happens with me."

Ibanez showing signs of rounding into form

TAMPA, Fla. -- Raul Ibanez's spring batting average is back on the interstate, but as long as the veteran's regular season production is on track, the Yankees will forget all about his Grapefruit League struggles.

Ibanez went 2-for-3 with a long solo homer, his second, and a run-scoring single in the Yankees' 4-3 loss to the Orioles on Thursday.

One day after the Braves' Jason Heyward robbed Ibanez of a home run in Lake Buena Vista, Ibanez said that he and hitting coach Kevin Long may have corrected a timing issue that had frustrated them for most of camp.

"The last few days I've been working hard a lot with Kevin in the cage, plugging away at it for a long time now," Ibanez said. "I've been feeling better the last four or five days and trying to build momentum for the start of the season. It's getting better and progressing. We'll keep working at it and just stay after it."

Ibanez is 6-for-48 (.125) this spring, but the Yankees aren't reconsidering having him as their designated hitter against right-handed pitching, as well as seeing some time in the corner-outfield spots. Having more regular at-bats seems to have helped, manager Joe Girardi said.

"When we got him, we felt he was going to hit," Girardi said. "Some guys take a little bit longer in Spring Training than others."

Bombers bits

• Nick Swisher (groin) worked out again on Thursday at the Yankees' Minor League complex, taking five at-bats, and could play in Friday's game against the Phillies. He did not play any defense on Thursday, manager Joe Girardi said. The team still expects Swisher to be ready for Opening Day.

• Rotation hopeful Freddy Garcia will make a Minor League start at the Yankees' complex on Himes Avenue on Friday, set to begin at 1 p.m. ET.

• The Yankees attended a luncheon benefiting the Boys & Girls Club of Tampa Bay on Thursday at the Tampa Marriott Waterside. Speakers included Hal Steinbrenner and Girardi at the 17th annual incarnation of the event, which has raised more than $3 million for the charity.

• The Yankees are continuing to think about using Andy Pettitte for an inning in their April 4 exhibition against the Mets at George M. Steinbrenner Field, the last contest of Spring Training. Girardi said it will depend on how Pettitte is feeling after his upcoming simulated game.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.