Ivan Nova is getting better all the time, perhaps on his way to becoming a staple in the Yankees‘ rotation for years to come. Friday night he pitched more like an old pro than a rookie, working out of trouble with poise and polish to shut down a hot Mets lineup in an electric atmosphere at Citi Field.
And still I think he’s the one getting kicked to the curb to make room for Phil Hughes.
It doesn’t seem fair, especially after Nova earned his eighth win of the season as the Yankees reminded the Mets which team in New York is the hottest, defeating their crosstown rivals, 5-1, Friday night.
But, in truth, there’s no easy call for the Yankees to make as they suddenly find themselves with a surplus of starting pitching.
It’s a nice problem to have, and it’s about the only problem the Yankees have these days.
Still, with Bartolo Colon rejoining the Yankees’ starting rotation Saturday and Hughes waiting in the wings, Nova may well have felt like he was pitching Friday night to keep his spot.
He didn’t say that, of course. Afterward he downplayed any such talk, saying, “It doesn’t bother me, because I’m not really thinking like that. It’s like I always say – just thinking, ‘Do my job. Just pitch my game and do my job.'”
Even so Nova is obviously aware the Yankees now have six starters for five spots.
As for Joe Girardi, he was full of praise for Nova, talking about how much he is growing as a pitcher, how “he is learning to pitch out of trouble.”
Nevertheless, there were indications from people in the Yankee organization that Nova is the likely candidate to be bumped.
It’s a tough call, whichever way they go, and both Girardi and GM Brian Cashman said they are at least considering a six-man rotation, though that seems unlikely. Neither of them hinted at which starter might be pulled, speaking as vaguely as possible about when and where Hughes will pitch next after three minor league rehab starts.
In any case, Nova delivered a solid start, pitching out of trouble early as he allowed one run in five innings before Girardi pinch-hit for him with the bases loaded in the top of the sixth with a 3-1 lead.
The manager’s move didn’t pay off, but the Yankee bullpen, which hasn’t flinched despite losing Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano, made sure it didn’t backfire either, pitching four scoreless innings.
Will Nova’s outing Friday night keep him in the rotation?
Actually, it’s quite possible the Yankees have already made their decision, and are only waiting to see if Colon gets through his start Saturday without reinjuring his hamstring before making it official.
Before his hamstring injury, Colon was simply too dominant as a starter to consider sending him back to the bullpen, where he began the season. Instead it comes down to either Nova or Freddy Garcia, the veteran junk-baller whose stuff probably wouldn’t translate to the bullpen as it has as a starter.
“Nova has a lot of potential,” one Yankee person said, “but I don’t think people are paying enough attention to how well Garcia is pitching. Everyone dismisses him because he has to trick hitters with his off-speed stuff, but his ERA is (almost) a run lower than Nova’s.”
There’s probably a lot of truth in that. Because Garcia throws his fastball at about 87 mph, we’ve all been waiting for him to run out of magic. But 14 starts into the season he has a 3.28 ERA, compared to 4.12 for Nova, and aside from being knocked out early by the Red Sox a few weeks ago, Garcia has been very dependable.
In addition, there is a lot of support for Garcia in the Yankee clubhouse. One player Friday said, “We love him because he’s fearless. He’ll throw any pitch in any count in any situation.”
OK, so maybe it’s hard to argue with the Yankees trying to squeeze everything they can, if that turns out to be the case.
“It’s a nice problem to have,” Cashman said. “I hope we’re forced to make the call on it, but history tells us that it’s usually made for you.”
He meant that injuries or poor performance usually dictate such decisions, but in this case the Yankees’ starting pitching has been better than anyone might have guessed – to the point where Cashman might not feel as much urgency to acquire a starter at the trading deadline.
In the meantime, it’s almost certain that somebody has to go, and the bet here is it will be Nova, despite his win Friday night.
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