In the bullpen before tonight’s game, Ivan Nova’s curveball was erratic. He’d throw one for a strike, then sail one out of the zone. Without a good feel for his primary breaking ball, Nova started warming up a reworked slider that he hadn’t been using this spring. It was sharp and consistent, and when Nova carried it into the game, he used it on three of his four strikeouts.
“That’s as good as it gets,” Joe Girardi said. “It’s the best pitching performance we’ve had probably in spring training.”
Nova plunked the first batter he faced, then he retired 10 in a row. He pitched six hitless innings tonight, and got 11 outs on the ground. Only one of his last 12 outs was hit in the air. This was Nova at his best. He was locating his fastball down in the zone to generate plenty of routine grounders, and when he had a strikeout count, he was able to go to that reconstructed slider for swings and misses. His fastball and slider were so good, he didn’t throw a single changeup tonight.
“No one seemed comfortable in the box,” Russell Martin said. “He impressed me out there, and I think he impressed himself.”
Nova threw a slider last year, but it wasn’t especially effective, so he tried to learn a cutter. The pitch he meant to be a cutter, actually behaves like the slider he was trying to throw in the first place. Nova calls it a slider, but said he throws it like a cutter and tries to think “cutter” when he uses it.
“My slider is like a new toy,” he said. “I have to start playing with it some time, not too much, but I feel comfortable with all my pitches.”
Coming off a rocky start in his previous outing, Nova made a big impression tonight. All four rotation candidates have shown something this spring, and the Yankees seem happy with all four. But this is certainly the standout performance of the spring, an outing so good Nova was scheduled for only five innings, made it through six, and still had to go to the bullpen to throw 15 more pitches.
“I showed myself how good I am,” Nova said. “I have to keep trusting myself and keep pitching my game.”
• Martin’s knee feels so strong that he’s stopped wearing the protective brace. “I’m not even worried about it now,” he said.
• Rafael Soriano told the Yankees that he didn’t want to pitch against an American League East team in spring training, so he was scratched from tonight’s game and will pitch at the minor league complex tomorrow. I believe that will be their first set of minor league intrasquad games.
• Mark Teixeira was hit by a pitch in the hand — apparently it managed to make contact with both hands somehow — but he’s fine. “It’s unbelievable how much that guy gets hit,” Girardi said.
• Boone Logan is scheduled to pitch tomorrow. He was shutdown very briefly early in spring training because of slight elbow fatigue, and he’s since been pitching sim games just so that he didn’t have to go on some road trips (kind of a we-owe-you-one after he went on the road without pitching earlier in the spring). He said he feels great, just hasn’t been in a real game in a while.
• The Yankees allowed only one hit tonight. Of all people, it was Mariano Rivera who gave it up. Rivera, Mark Prior and Dave Robertson threw scoreless innings out of the bullpen.
• First time seeing the full lineup and the Yankees beat the Orioles 10-0. The O’s were using a series of relievers tonight, and the Yankees everyday players accounted for eight RBI.
• Mark Teixeira had two doubles tonight, giving him seven for the spring. Teixeira took a lot of extra swings this winter, and so far it seems to be paying off with production he hopes to carry into April. “Every indication is he’s going to do fine and get off to a good start,” Long said. “The amount of work he’s put in, that helps. Now you start to build muscle memory at a much earlier time than he’s been accustomed to, and a lot of that is going to sink in. I think he’s going to be more comfortable from the get-go.”
• Alex Rodriguez hit his third spring home run, a no-doubt shot to left-center. He’s really been swinging the bat well this spring.
• The only non-everyday Yankees to have a hit tonight were Eric Chavez — of course — and Jesus Montero.
• Francisco Cervelli was able to play catch while wearing his protective boot today.
• Here’s Joba Chamberlain speaking about his oblique injury: “I don’t know the severity of what’s going on,” he said. “I know how I feel and what I can do. There’s nothing that I can’t do. I played catch the day after it happened. We’ll err on the side of caution now instead of trying to be aggressive. During the season, we’d still probably take the two days to make sure it didn’t linger the rest of the year.”
• How productive can Robinson Cano be? “I wouldn’t be surprised if Cano hit 40 home runs,” Kevin Long said. “He hit 29 (last year). Could he hit 40? Why not? It’s a big number – and not something that’s a goal – but could he do it? I don’t think there’s anybody standing here that thinks he can’t.”
• There was one guy in the Yankees clubhouse who doubted that number. it was Cano himself. “No chance,” Cano said. “Maybe if you put an extra half-season… To be honest, that’s not in my mind. I don’t think I’m a home run hitter. Most of my home runs are line drives. I don’t want that kind of thing in my mind. If it hit it, thank God, but it’s not on my mind.”
• Just saw this tonight: Curtis Granderson is doing his NCAA Tournament challenge. It’s a chance to donate $10 to his foundation and get a chance to win some prizes. Not sure how much time is left to sign up. I just found out or would have posted earlier. (thanks to Matt for the email heads up)
Associated Press photos