CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Adam Warren was smiling Saturday when a group of Yankees media headed his way in the smallish visiting clubhouse at Spectrum Field.
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You'd be hard pressed finding a friendlier or happier gent anywhere let alone a baseball atmosphere.
Don't be fooled by Warren's cheery personality though. He has a lot of competitive juices and they're already flowing this spring because he's on a crusade to convince the Yankees that he can be more valuable as a fourth or fifth starter than he would be as a middle or long reliever again.
Warren made the most in his spring debut with two perfect innings as the Yankees starter in a 6-5 loss to the Phillies. This six-up, six-down outing against the Phillies' A lineup was nearly flawless, as Warren was about as good as he could be for this time of the spring. He threw 17 strikes in 26 pitches and induced four soft contact outs before ending his day by setting down Michael Saunders on a swinging strike and whiffing Tommy Joseph on a called strike three.
"Here's manager Joe Girardi's post-game take:
"Threw strikes. His changeup was good. I thought his command was good. So nice job."
A few hours earlier, Warren came up in Girardi's morning presser in Tampa, and those comments included a skipper statement that Warren will have a job on the Yankees' staff in 2017 ... either as a starter or reliever.
This is where it gets tricky.
Warren mostly has been a very good middle man throughout his four big-league seasons, including the final two months of 2016 for the Yankees after he was reacquired from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade. But the season before Warren also excelled in his first extended opportunity to be a starter when he pitched to a 3.66 ERA over 17 outings.
"I think in 2015 I really figured out that I really wanted to start," Warren said. "I really enjoyed seeing hitters multiple times, working through a game, throwing 100 pitches and going deep I still love pitching in general, so it's not like I'm unhappy in the bullpen. I just like starting a little bit more and that's where I'd like to be."
"I talked to (pitching coach) Larry (Rothschild) about that the other day. He's like, 'It's probably going to hurt you that you're good out of the bullpen and you're flexible too.' I was like, 'I know.'"
Girardi was asked about Rothschild's comment during his post-game interview.
"I didn't say that," Girardi said, referring to Warren's strong bullpen resume possibly sabotaging his bid to start. "Some people might view it that way. I don't necessarily view it that way because you know that he's been successful in both places where some of these other guys you're not sure.
"But I think you have to take a long look at it and decide what's best in the long run. For this year, who gives us the best chance to win?"
This starting rotation race -- five righties for two spots -- is just getting underway, and so far three of the contenders have combined for six perfect innings: Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa on Friday, then Warren on Saturday.
Luis Severino will get his first shot on Sunday in a start against Toronto in Tampa, and Chad Green likely will pitch in relief soon.
"I think it's going to be really competitive, and people like to see competitive sports ... competitive anything," Girardi said. "I think it will be exciting."
Randy Miller may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RandyJMiller. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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