After the longest outing of Ivan Nova’s young Major League, the focus in the Yankees clubhouse seemed to be on Nova’s eighth pitch of the night. It was the one pitch that cost him a run, but it might have been his biggest pitch of the night.
There were no outs, runners at the corners and the defending National League MVP had just fouled off a first-pitch fastball. That’s when Nova went to his changeup for a run-scoring double play that started a string of 22 of 24 batters retired.
“The last couple times, I wasn’t throwing too many changeups, maybe one or none in a game,” Nova said. “Tonight, we started with changeups to their third and fourth hitters, the power hitters, because you don’t want to let them hit your fastball. I started mixing from the beginning, and we kept doing that through the end of the game.”
Nova leans heavily on his fastball and curveball, and both are good pitches, but when he was struggling a month ago, it was his reluctance to throw anything beyond those two pitches that got him into trouble. He had to mix it up, and tonight he did that. Russell Martin said it was the first time he remembered Nova having both a sharp curveball and a sharp slider, and Joe Girardi was thrilled to see his 24-year-old going to the changeup, especially against left-handed home run hitters in a homer-friendly ballpark.
“It’s impressive,” Girardi said. “We’ve seen this kid take some steps forward and do some really good things for us, and we’ll continue to work with him and try to teach him. And I think he’s learning on the way. That’s what you do when you’re a young starter, you take what you did the last start and try to learn from it. And I think he’s doing that. He’s making adjustments as he needs to make adjustments.”
Nova didn’t walk anyone tonight, and after those back-to-back singles that opened the bottom of the first inning, he allowed just two more hits the rest of the way. He’s not usually a strikeout pitcher, but he struck out a season-high seven, including the last batter he faced on a nice breaking ball on the outer half.
“He looked poised today,” Martin said. “It looked like he felt confident even though he had to battle that first inning. After that, it looked like a piece of cake for him.”
My audio of Nova is awful — he was standing right underneath a speaker that was blasting some song I’d never heard — so here’s the Martin audio. He’s always pretty good at talking about his pitchers.
• Alex Rodriguez came out of the game just because Girardi wanted to get him off his feet, but Rodriguez admitted that he’s feeling a little banged up lately. “I feel okay,” he said. “Just okay. Nothing north of that, that’s for sure.” He said the shoulder’s not a problem, he’s just played a lot lately, and Girardi said he’s planning to have Rodriguez in the lineup tomorrow.
• Rodriguez said his diving play at third base didn’t bother his shoulder. “A lot of guys are banged up,” he said. “It’s part of the long summer. I don’t think there’s a guy in Major League Baseball that feels 100 percent right now. I’m no exception.?”
• One advantage to having a former National League catcher behind the plate for an interleague series: “When I got here, the first thing I asked (Martin) was, ‘Do you know the hitters well?’” Nova said. “He said yes, so I didn’t shake any time. I trust my catcher, so whatever the sign was, I just threw it.”
• Nova acknowledged that he thought about this ballpark’s reputation while he was throwing in the bullpen pregame. He was especially focused on staying down in the zone, keeping hitters from elevating in a homer-friendly park. “He’s a tough guy to evelvate the ball on because he’s got so much movement,” Martin said. “And for the most part he keeps his fastball down. He’s just really a tough guy to elevate, so when you’ve got a guy who keeps the ball down like that, you’re not really to worried about the long ball.”
• Girardi said he never really considered sticking with Nova for the ninth inning. Nova had already thrown more innings than ever before, and Girardi didn’t want to send him back out there at 105 pitches. Nova said he was surprised to be taken out and thought he could have finished it.
• Girardi’s plan in the ninth was to stick with Luis Ayala until a runner got on base, then he wanted to go to Boone Logan to face a lefty. Logan hadn’t pitched since June 12. “We wanted to get Boone in a game,” Girardi said.
• Logan hit Votto with his first and only pitch, but Girardi didn’t indicate any thought of no longer using Logan. “It’s not what you want to do, but we’ll move forward,” Girardi said.
• After Logan put a second runner on base with no outs, Girardi said it was a no-brainer to go to Mariano Rivera, even though there was another lefty coming to the plate. At that point it was a save situation. “It’s his job,” Girardi said. “That’s what we have him for, and that’s what he’s done for a long time.”
• In a homer-ballpark, the Yankees did most of their scoring with a series of singles — and one double — in the first inning. “I thought our guys were ready to hit right from the start,” Girardi said. “Nobody tried to do too much. There’s all this talk about this ballpark being a home run ballpark. Our guys just took what they gave them, hit hard line drives and we scored runs.”
• Girardi said the decision to replace Jones with Brett Gardner was strictly for defense and had nothing to do with the ankle injury or Jones not running out the play.
• Nova was hilarious talking about his first big league at-bat. He said the first fastball looked like it was 100 mph. “The first pitch he threw me was 85,” Nova said. “The second one was 90-91. I was like, ‘What the hell? What are you trying to do with me? Keep throwing 85.’ I got a chance to hit and pitch in the big-leagues, so I’ll take that. It was a really good experience.”
Associated Press photo