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March 23, 2014

AL East boasts an abundance of elite starting pitching

Spring training statistics aren’t all that relevant and slugger David Ortiz’s history shows that. The Red Sox designated hitter hasn’t batted over 250 during any spring training since 2006.

But don’t disregard the stats New York Yankees pitchers have posted this spring. Each of their top six starters, except Hiroki Kuroda, have pitched very well.

Red Sox starters struggled mightily during 2012 and so when Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz put together strong spring training performances in 2013, it provided a lift heading into the regular season. The success carried over.

Same thing could happen with the Yankees who last year missed the postseason for just the second time since the introduction of the Wild Card.

An arms race will take place in the AL East. Thanks to the addition of Masahiro Tanaka and the return of Michael Pineda, New York joins Boston and Tampa Bay in being able to boast one of the major’s top rotations. All three clubs have strong and deep starting staffs and the AL East title very likely could be decided on which team’s starting rotation pitches the best.

Pineda, who is just 25 years old, hasn’t pitched since 2011 because of an anterior labral tear. But he has used a terrific slider to hurl 9 scoreless innings this spring entering Friday.

Tanaka, the Yankees’ big international free agent acquisition — has surrendered only two runs in 9.1 innings. CC Sabathia — still the ace? — struggled mightily last summer but has looked sharp so far this spring (3 runs, 17.0 innings). He hurled 7.0 scoreless innings Friday against the Pirates.

David Phelps (2.75 ERA in 19.2 innings) and Ivan Nova (3.66 ERA, 19.2 innings) have impressed, too.

New York also has young depth with 26-year-olds Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno in the starting pitching mix.

The Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, meanwhile, should not be forgotten when discussing starting pitching. Baltimore added free agent Ubaldo Jimenez to a decent staff that includes Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Bud Norris and Wei-Yin Chen.

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