Competition always brings out the best in athletes.

One of the battles the Yankees will have this spring is for the No. 5 spot in the rotation.

The contestants: Ivan Nova versus David Phelps.

The last memory fans have of both pitchers was Nova getting removed from the rotation due to an extremely poor second half and Phelps pitching well in just about every opportunity he got.

Phelps was used primarily as the long-reliever with the occasional spot start, going 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 33 appearances, including 11 starts.

Phelps also had 96 strikeouts in 99.2 innings and a 1.19 WHIP.

On the other hand, Nova finished 2012 with a 12-8 record and a surprising 5.02 ERA in 28 starts.

Nova started out the first half pitching extremely well, picking up where he left off back in 2011. However, he really struggled to the finish line and ended up being left off the Yankees postseason roster.

So now with the Yankees rotation all but set with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes locked in, the fifth and final one is up for grabs.

During the spring, Nova has yet to pitch for the Yankees. Phelps has looked really impressive in the short outings he has made this spring.

In two starts, Phelps has pitched five scoreless innings, allowing five hits and striking out one.

If Nova can return to the first half form he had in 2012—when he was 10-3 with a 3.29 ERA—then Nova clearly will get the No. 5 spot because of his proven track record.

But if Nova looks like the guy who went 2-5 with a 7.05 ERA in the second half and struggled in just about every start he made, then Phelps has a really good shot.

The one thing to look into is Phil Hughes and the progression of his back. He was told to rest when they found a bulging disc was causing irritation in his back.

If Hughes has to miss any time due to this injury in 2013, then this fifth starter competition might end up landing both Nova and Phelps into the rotation, especially if Hughes lands on the DL.

If you can take anything from this pitching competition, you have to hope Phelps pitching the way he is will push Nova to perform better on the mound.

Joe Girardi made it perfectly clear to him in 2012 that he’s not afraid to demote him if necessary.

And if it gets any worse, Brian Cashman still has an option on Nova, and he could send him to the minors to work out his issues.

I think Nova will end up with the job as long as he doesn’t completely tank the spring and look like he did in the second half of 2012.

But Phelps sure will not make it easy for him.

Stay tuned, Yankees Universe.

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