Ivan Nova pitched six strong innings tonight and has made it almost impossible for the Yankees to send the pitcher back down to Triple-A. Nova's workman-like performance guided the Yankees to a 9-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels and snapped New York's three-game skid. It was Nova's seventh straight win.
You can add the word "stopper' to the 24 year-old Nova's resume. He is 3-0 this season in games after a Yankees loss. The only problem with Nova's victory, it didn't do anything to clear up the six man logjam in the team's rotation.
Nova was consistent, if not as overpowering as in recent games, through the first six innings. He gave up a couple of harmless singles and a hanging fifth-inning slider cost him a solo home-run to Peter Bourjos.
In the seventh, Nova started to lose his fastball. Up until then, it was clocked in the mid-90's and his slider was mostly good.
Vernon Wells' RBI single knocked in a run in the seventh, leading to Nova's exit with the bases loaded and no outs. He received a warm ovation from the fans in Yankee Stadium as he exited the diamond.
Enter Rafael Soriano into the precarious situation. The former-closer has been lights out since returning from the DL. Soriano didn't disappoint. He got the first batter to hit into a run-scoring double-play and the next batter, Jeff Mathis, popped up to end the threat. He threw a total of four pitches
Since returning from the DL, Soriano hasn't allowed a single base runner in four appearances. He pitched a critical inning in last Friday's win against the Red Sox and tonight, quite possibly, saved a trip to the minors for Nova.
"He's back to himself," said manager Joe Girardi when asked about the difference in Soriano at the beginning of the season and his appearance tonight. "Sometimes, coming here could be an adjustment. What he did tonight was huge for us."
Nova's final line read: six innings, three runs, three walks and no strikeouts. In his last outing, Nova dominated the White Sox and struck out 10. Still, since returning from the minors on July 30, Nova (11-4) has three quality starts under his belt but Girardi did notice a slight change from Nova's last outing.
"He [Nova] had to work a little harder tonight," said Girardi of his pitcher's adjustments. "It's a sign of maturity. He's made great strides as a starter since last year. He's more consistent and developed another pitch."
Nova agreed. "My fastball wasn't there, my slider wasn't there," he told the YES Network. "I battled to the end and got the win."
Luis Ayala came in to pitch the eighth and ninth innings. He allowed three hits and struck out three.
Offensively, the Yankees didn't make Angels pitcher Garrett Richard's major league debut a red carpet affair. The newbie walked the first two Yankees batters he faced, before Curtis Granderson hit the first of his two home-runs on the evening. Welcome to the big leagues Garrett. It could be Grandy was trying to atone for his base-running gaff which ended the game last night. Robinson Cano came up one single short of hitting for the cycle. He had a double, triple and home-run.
The Yankees victory was the first against a pitcher making his debut in seven years. Oddly, the team has lost the last six meetings to starters making their debut.
Nova's victory-- with Soriano's assist-- is sure to keep Girardi awake at night thinking about how to slim down his six-man rotation. Or at least until Saturday, when Phil Hughes goes to the mound.
How can the manager send Nova-- who has the second most wins (11) on the team, behind CC Sabathia (16)-- back to the minors?
Hughes got rocked by the Red Sox, in a relief role, last Sunday, and hopes to rebound this Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays. The righthander needs a good outing to keep him from returning to the bullpen.
Meanwhile, Sabathia has been grumbling about the over-stocked rotation, and the extra day between his starts, and wants Girardi to "make a decision on who to pitch."
Tonight, Nova didn't make it any easier.