Competition for the No. 5 starting rotation slot began quietly Thursday morning with David Phelps pitching to live hitters in a light rain. Before the heavy stuff came down, Ivan Nova tossed 35 pitches during a side session — step one toward washing away a rough 2012, when his star dimmed while Phelps ascended. A spring training battle between the 26-year-old right-handers was inevitable. "Until I get like CC [Sabathia] and get something millions [of dollars], then it’s not a competition," Nova said brightly, his day’s work done. "For me, every year is a competition." Nova admitted his confidence took a hit during last year’s second half, going 2-5 with a 7.05 ERA after the All-Star break and being left off the postseason roster. "It’s not like he flipped my desk over," manager Joe Girardi said of telling Nova his season was over before the division series began. "But I could see the disappointment in him." Nova encountered shoulder stiffness last Aug. 21 at Chicago and missed a couple of turns, though he doesn’t blame ill health for his bloated ERA. At the same time, the hard-throwing Phelps was making strides as a long reliever and spot starter – striking out 96 batters in 99.2 innings and pitching to a 3.34 ERA. "It helped my confidence immensely, just proving that I could pitch at this level," Phelps said. Another boost came when Phelps arrived at camp to find his locker next to Andy Pettitte.