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Garcia takes the lead in race for No. 5

It is no secret that Freddy Garcia's spring training performance is usually graded on a curve. (Well, you certainly can't grade him on his fastball. Ba-da-bum!)

Even Joe Girardi acknowledges that he is less inclined to put much stock into a poor spring training outing by Garcia, because he never pitches very well in March but often pitches adequately, and sometimes significantly better than that, between April and October.

So considering that he wasn't horrible against the Phillies today -- two innings pitched, two runs, four hits and a laser shot of a home run by Hunter Pence -- the only conclusion to be drawn is that Freddy is out front in the competition with Phil Hughes for the fifth and final spot in the Yankees' starting rotation.

After all it will be recalled that Garcia was clearly outpitched by Bartolo Colon last spring, and yet when the games became real, it was Freddy in the rotation and Big Bart in the bullpen. This year, with Hughes coming off a poor and puzzling 2011 season and having worked successfully out of the pen in the past, as long as this "competition'' is on the level you'd have to assume Garcia has the edge.

"I would never underestimate Freddy,'' Alex Rodriguez said. "He's kind of an established veteran, and he's a winner. I sat here last year and predicted to one of the guys here that I thought he would win 15 games. How many did he win? Twelve? He's just one of those guys you just love having on your side.''

Now 35, Garcia showed no dropoff in his repertoire of soft-serve stuff. He tried to sneak a 1-2 splitter past Pence and instead nearly got whiplash turning his head to follow the flight of the ball, which left The Boss a lot faster than it came to the plate. And he rebounded to use the split to get two strikeouts in the second.

One guy tried to suggest to Freddy that the 20 mph tailwind aided the flight of the home-run ball but the 13-year vet was having none of it. "Without the wind that ball lands in the car dealership,'' he said, referring to the Benz dealer about a quarter-mile beyond the left-field fence.

Garcia signed a one-year deal worth $4 million on Dec. 9., when the Yankees were hard-up for pitching and more than a month before they overstocked the rotation by acquiring Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda. But Garcia said he had no regrets about his decision.

"I came here last year and I like it here,'' he said. "So now I have to pitch good to deserve the spot. I’m not taking anything for granted. That’s the way it is.''

Asked if he thought it would help him that the manager seemed to understand that the spring is not his best time of the year, Garcia said, "Sure, why not?''

Why not, indeed? The curve helped Freddy last spring training as much as the splitter helped him in the regular season. And judging by what happened last year, his first outing of this spring could not have set him back all that much.

Might even have helped.