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Freddy Garcia: Pitchin' magician

If the competition for the No. 5 starter's job is truly on-the-level, then Freddy Garcia took a step ahead of Phil Hughes today at The Boss, shutting down an admittedly B-level squad of Atlanta Braves for three innings, allowing just one hit and no runs.

"That was vintage Freddy out there,'' Joe Girardi said after Garcia's 33-pitch outing, in which he twice set the Braves down in order on eight pitches or less, and worked through a slightly troublesome second inning in which he surrendered a ground ball single and a walk before killing the threat with a strikeout of Brandon Hicks on a changeup.

For Garcia, his second outing of the spring lowered his March ERA to 3.60. Quite uncharacteristic for a pitcher whose typical spring ERA is in the double-digits. But knowing that he must clearly outpitch Hughes to earn the final rotation spot -- Garcia was handed the No. 5 role last spring despite having been outpitched by the beloved Bartolo Colon -- seems to have raised the 35-year-old righty's training camp game a notch or two.

"I know I have to fight for a spot so I have to pitch good,'' he said. "Before that, I used to have my spot in the rotation. But this year, I don't want to take it for granted.''

Garcia was followed by Rafael Soriano, who threw a 1-2-3 fourth inning, Manny Banuelos, who threw two scoreless innings and struck out three, and D.J. Mitchell, who appears to be emerging as a candidate for the spot occupied by Luis Ayala last season, who also threw two scoreless innings.