Bartolo Colon may be Yankees' No. 2

NEW YORK -- Plan A from the beginning of the season was to tread water until July. The New York Yankees hoped the Bartolo Colons and the Freddy Garcias would buy them time until they could locate someone to team with CC Sabathia for October.

With the sand in the trade deadline hourglass dwindling, Colon may have to take on a second savior role as well.

Unless Yankees GM Brian Cashman can find a stud starting pitcher in the final hours of the deadline, Colon -- if he can stay healthy -- probably will be the Yankees' Game 2 ALDS starter.

The Colorado Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez is off the board. The only possible known difference-maker available is headed to Cleveland.

The Yankees always looked at Jimenez as a No. 2 starter at best, while the Rockies stamped ace price tags on him. The Yankees dangled Phil Hughes, which was a very 2009 thing to do and tells you what they really think about No. 65's comeback.

The Los Angeles Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda was a fallback position. Kuroda does not have the stuff that Jimenez has, but the Yankees thought it could work in the AL East.

But before any deal could be consummated, Kuroda -- after initially being open minded about coming to New York -- finally decided Saturday that he would refuse to leave Los Angeles.

The Yankees like Francisco Liriano, but Cashman loathes giving up his top prospects. He reportedly wouldn't offer Jesus Montero, Manny Bauneulos or Dellin Betances in a trade for Jimenez.

Thus, a trade for Liriano may be impossible to pull off, because the Minnesota Twins don't need to deal him and would have to be overwhelmed. They consider themselves buyers rather than sellers -- though, they will sell at the right price, a source said -- in the AL Central.

This leaves the Yankees leaning on Colon.

On Saturday, Colon was good, not great, but again demonstrated his make-them-miss pitches that the Yankees think can work in the playoffs. For the fourth time in six chances, he won after a Yankees loss.

Colon, 38, is a proven AL East starter, with an 8-6 record and a 3.30 ERA. From 2005-10, though, he only pitched a total of 45 2/3 innings in the second half of the season.

After Saturday's five innings, his 2011 total is up to 19, which is why no one knows how much is left. To combat Colon's age and lack of use, manager Joe Girardi is going to rest Colon as much as possible down the stretch.

"We'll try to give him an extra day when we can," Girardi said after the Yankees' 8-3 victory over the Orioles in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader.

On Saturday night, Ivan Nova auditioned for Hughes' No. 5 spot in the rotation. Again, he looked like the better pitcher, going seven innings and allowing just two runs in the Yankees' 17-3 beating of the Orioles.

If Nova continues to pitch well, 2011 is going to be more important than Hughes' 2010. That point should be now.

In '10, Hughes made the All-Star team and won 18 games. This year, he 1-3 with an 8.24 ERA. Nova is now 9-4 with a 4.01 ERA.

In the near term, Girardi said the Yankees will consider a six man rotation, at least for the next week.

The Yankees may be prepared to pull the plug on Hughes, as evidenced by their willingness to dangle him to the Rockies. And Colon will fill the role that Hughes was earmarked for -- the Yankees' No. 2 starter.

Colon has postseason experience, and it is hard to think he will be a different person if he can make it to October. On Saturday, Colon ended four of his five innings with strikeouts, most impressively in the fifth.

Colon always has the demeanor of a guy taking a weekend stroll. In the first, after couple of outs, the Orioles loaded the bases on a questionable hit batter call, a single and another Eduardo Nuñez error.

Colon then reached back on a 1-2 to fire a 94 mph fastball past Mark Reynolds. He walked off the mound, picked up the top of his jersey like it was a dinner napkin and wiped off his mouth as though he had just polished off a porterhouse steak.

Colon is a different pitcher than he was six years ago, when he won the Cy Young and then faded into oblivion. Back then, Girardi remembers him clocking fastballs near 100.

"I don't think he had as much movement if you go back five or six years ago, but he also had more velo," said Girardi, using the cool term for velocity. "His secondary pitches, I think, have improved since that time. The biggest difference between Bartolo then and now is the movement. He was a guy who would get up to 98-99 back in the day."

On Sunday he topped out at 95. He has saved the Yankees' rotation in the regular season. Now, he may be asked to pitch the Yankees through October.

Unless Cashman can discover a No. 2 at a price he likes.