First Pitch: Judgment days

March, 5, 2013
3/05/13
6:00
AM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- As we enter the fourth week of spring training, the evaluations become a little more serious. The decision-making process truly begins.

David Phelps will be on the mound Tuesday night for the Yankees against the Atlanta Braves at the Big Stein. Until now, the results have not been that important, as Joe Girardi wants his pitchers to ease into the spring and not push themselves too far. That changes starting Tuesday night.

[+] EnlargeDavid Phelps
John Munson/The Star-Ledger/USA TODAY SportsDavid Phelps, competing for the fifth starter spot, gets the ball Tuesday night.
At this point in camp, the Yankees have more decisions left to make than in recent years. The fifth starter spot is up for grabs, but the Yankees are also still trying to figure out their Opening Day outfield. And you get the sense that Girardi might keep that one in his office desk drawer until we arrive in the Bronx on Monday morning, April 1.

The Yankees have a funny situation in the outfield. Brett Gardner is the team’s best center fielder, but he won’t be playing that position all season, and he might not even trot out there when the club’s regular center fielder is on the shelf. That’s strange.

Suddenly, guys like Melky Mesa and Zoilo Almonte have a real chance to be in the Yankees' starting lineup. If this season is doomed -- as many of you seem to think it is -- Mesa or Almonte playing on Opening Day will be a signal of the beginning of a decline. That said, Juan Rivera or Matt Diaz aren’t exactly what anyone is used to in the Bronx either.

This week, we could see the old, injured guard make their game debuts. The most important one is Derek Jeter, whom Brian Cashman has said could be in a lineup this coming Sunday.

It speaks to the makeup of this club that Jeter may be more important to this Yankees team than he has been to any club during his 18 years as a regular.

Mariano Rivera also may get in an inning against a real opponent for the first time since last May. From all reports, he looks ready to go and, amazingly, even for him, he might not miss a beat at 43 years old.

So camp moves into overdrive this week, with some new questions, and some old ones, too.

UP NOW: Wallace Matthews on Derek Jeter. Cashman injured his leg and ankle jumping out of a plane.

ON DECK: It is a night game at the Big Stein, so the clubhouse will not open until 1:45 p.m. In the meantime, I will have a blog up at 11 a.m. discussing the Gardner decision.

QUESTION: WHAT IS THE BIGGEST QUESTION YOU WANT ANSWERED OUT OF CAMP?
Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Jacoby Ellsbury
BA HR RBI R
.286 14 64 64
OTHER LEADERS
HRM. Teixeira 20
RBIJ. Ellsbury 64
RB. Gardner 79
OPSJ. Ellsbury .778
WM. Tanaka 12
ERAH. Kuroda 3.88
SOM. Tanaka 135