Ivan Nova’s introduction to life as a starter in the major leagues was somewhat rude, but the young right hander shrugged off the early cold shoulder and gave a performance that suggested he might be in for many happy returns.
While at Scranton, one of the keys to Nova’s success had been his ability to pound the zone with a plus fastball. At the start of last night’s outing, he seemed determined to carry over that approach, but after two mid-90s fastballs were turned into a single and double, Nova may have had second thoughts. Seemingly scared off the fastball and out of the zone, Nova walked Jose Bautista to load the bases, setting the stage for what could have been a disastrous major league debut. Instead, Nova returned to what got him to the big leagues and began firing fastballs touching 97mph. Despite sitting dead red on a 2-0 heater, Vernon Wells was overpowered and lofted a lazy fly ball to left. Fred Lewis decided to tag on the play, giving Brett Gardner an opportunity to show off his very own impressive heater. Gardner’s throw easily beat Lewis to the plate and gave Nova the breathing room he needed to complete the escape, which he did by striking out Adam Lind.
After his eventful first inning, Nova not only settled down, but seemed to get stronger with each inning. Over his final 4 1/3 innings, Nova surrendered only four hits, including two infield singles. In fact, one of those infield singles was actually an out, but first base umpire Mark Wegner incorrectly ruled that Eduardo Nunez’ throw pulled Mark Teixeira’s foot off the bag on Yunel Escobar’s third inning single. Unfortunately for Nova, Wegner’s mistake preceded one of his own, as Jose Bautista hammered a hanging curveball deep into the left field seats.
Despite only throwing 73 pitches, Nova was finally lifted with one out in the sixth, although the reason for his early exit had nothing to do with his losing effectiveness. Instead, Joe Girardi was likely trying to have his young right hander leave the game on a positive note, especially after one of his fastballs sailed over the head of Bautista, prompting an angry response from the Jay’s right fielder and a minor benches clearing incident. Impressively, Nova responded to the adversity by retiring Bautista on a fly ball to center, but after Wells reached on an infield single, Girardi opted to call it a night. Although it would have been interesting to see how Nova responded in the entire inning, you can’t blame Girardi for wanting to avoid having the rookie spoil his outing, especially with the way the Yankees’ bullpen has been performing of late.
When Nova departed the game, the score was tied 2-2, ensuring he would not have a chance at his first big league victory. However, with the way Toronto starter Brandon Morrow was throwing, Nova was lucky that he didn’t leave on the hook for a loss. In his six innings, Morrow struck out 12 batters, but the Yankees were able to score single runs in his first and last frames thanks to RBI doubles by Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada. Both times, the runners who scored reached base on a walk, but otherwise, Morrow was in command thanks to an overpowering fastball and devastating curveball/slider combo. Of course, it should also be mentioned that the Yankees’ bottom of the order (Nunez, Pena and Cervelli) as well as a rather large strike zone by Jerry Meals probably both played a role in Morrow’s dominant performance. Regardless, the emerging right hander has now struck out 36 Yankees in 24 1/3 innings this season.
With both starters out of the game relatively early, the contest became a battle of the bullpens, a common theme in a season series that has now featured four one-run games (out of 10 total). This time around, the Blue Jays bullpen got the better of the showdown, posting three shutout innings to close out the game. Meanwhile, the Yankees’ relievers also performed well, but another mistake to Bautista proved to be the difference in the game. With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Francisco Cervelli sat on the outside corner, but David Robertson’s fastball tailed back over the middle of the plate before being deposited over the left field wall. As soon as the ball left the bat, Bautista took a moment to glare at Robertson and then took several more to make his way around the bases. With retribution apparently on his mind, or perhaps jubilation over hitting his 40th round tripper, Bautista then pumped his fist upon reaching home plate, a gesture that very well might be revisited at some point over the two teams’ final eight games.
Putting aside the loss for a moment, Ivan Nova’s performance was certainly encouraging. His fastball command was excellent (70% for strikes) and his velocity was both premium (topped out at 98) and enduring (his last fastball was 95). Nova also featured a sharp moving hard change that seems as if it will be particularly effective against lefties. One area of concern, however, was the breaking ball. Not only did his curveball lack late bite, but he also struggled to throw it for strikes. As impressive as his fastball was, Nova is going to need another pitch, especially against right handed batters who are less likely to be fooled by the hard changeup. According to scouting reports, Nova does have a good curve (and is also working on a slider), but last night at least, he was really just a two pitch pitcher.
The Yankees are in a pennant race, so there really isn’t room for moral victories. It’s great that Nova pitched well, but the Yankees can’t afford to lose games while learning lessons about their 40-man roster. What’s more, the initial plan is to push everyone back a day, so even if Nova pitches well, he won’t be replacing the weak links in the Yankees starting rotation. Of course, if the Yankees keep trotting out a lineup with a bottom third as weak as last night’s batting order, it may not matter who is starting.
Ivan Nova’s Pitch Breakdown
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