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Girardi embracing competitive spirit of Yanks' camp

Manager notes that spring will be different from years past with so many open spots

TAMPA, Fla. -- Open competition is not usually a hallmark of Spring Training with the Yankees, where assignments are often cemented by big-dollar contracts, but this year promises to present Joe Girardi with more options in how to best assemble the 25-man roster that will break camp.

"It's probably going to be as competitive a camp as I've been in, just because of all the new players and the young players and the spots that are open here," Girardi said on Friday, as Yankees pitchers and catchers reported to George M. Steinbrenner Field. "That is a little bit different than what we've been used to."

Up and down the roster, Girardi and his coaches will have plenty of questions to answer over the next seven weeks. The rotation, lineup and bullpen all seem flexible to an extent, and Girardi said it could take until the last two weeks of Grapefruit League games before the Yankees decide where all the pieces fit.

"In the beginning, I'm going to let guys get their at-bats," Girardi said. "I think they have to get their timing, and I don't think it's fair to judge. I think determining some roles in the bullpen will be extremely important as well. You'd like to say that you'll have that all ironed out by the end of Spring Training, but maybe you don't and you figure it out as we go."

Video: Yankees to test out new pace-of-game rules at camp

As the Yankees try to improve upon last year's 84-win, second-place finish, their chances could lean heavily upon bounce-back seasons from several major contributors. They scored the third-fewest runs in the AL last year, and Girardi believes the Yankees can get more production from sluggers like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira.

"Let's face it: The key to any order a lot of times is the middle of the order and how they produce, and that's where we need to keep those guys healthy and get the production we expect out of them," Girardi said.

The Yankees believe that Didi Gregorius will handle duties as the everyday shortstop, filling the vacancy left by Derek Jeter's retirement, and that second baseman Stephen Drew will have a better offensive season with a full winter of training.

Girardi noted that he doesn't expect Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner to move around the lineup as much as they did last year, when Ellsbury seemed miscast at times as a No. 3 hitter, and -- of course -- there will be plenty of eyes watching to see what Alex Rodriguez can provide.

"I'm excited to see how our pieces fit in our lineup," Girardi said. "We have switch-hitters, we have left-handed power, we have right-handed hitters -- I'm excited to see how it all fits."

Video: Girardi sees multiple leaders to step in for Jeter

After using 13 different starting pitchers last year, the Yankees will hope to get complete seasons from Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda. Nathan Eovaldi fired 199 2/3 innings last year for the Marlins and is being asked to replace Hiroki Kuroda's workload, while Chris Capuano could round out the rotation until Ivan Nova's expected return in June.

The bullpen appears to be the Yanks' biggest strength heading into the year, and they hope to use Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller to replicate the lock-down effect that vaulted the Royals into the World Series. Girardi did not rule out the idea of using Betances and Miller as co-closers, but said he is in no rush to iron out assignments.

"I think this team has a chance to be really good," Girardi said. "We need to do a better job of staying healthy than we've done the last two years, but I think we have a chance to be really good."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.
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