Ivan Nova was feeling nervous, and he usually doesn’t feel nervous standing 60 feet 6 inches from batters. Only this angry Blue Jays’ batter, Jose Bautista, was getting a little closer after watching a pitch sail by at head level three innings after homering.
“Because when he came to me, I don’t know what to do,” said Nova, who didn’t back down in that incident during his first major-league start for the Yankees last August in Toronto.
Nova has been calm all this season. But now the 24-year-old rookie will be under the hot glare at Yankee Stadium, taking the ball tonight as the Game 1 “reliever” against the Tigers after originally being selected to start Game 2. Since Friday night’s opener was suspended because of rain after an inning and a half and the score 1-1, Nova gets to take over for CC Sabathia.
“I don’t really see the difference,” Nova said. “It’s not like they’re going to throw me out there. I’m going to have time to warm up and do all the stuff I usually do.”
Joe Girardi said: “The big thing is for him to just control his emotions, and we’ll watch for that early. If we have to talk to him a few more times early in the game, we will.”
The supremely confident Nova doesn’t think this is going to be a problem at all. He arrives after going 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in the regular season.
“I had big games this year; it wasn’t difficult to do,” Nova said. “Why is it going to be difficult (tonight)?”
Girardi factored his poised demeanor into the original rotation decision, among other things.
“It all plays into it,” Girardi said. “The year he’s had. His ability to pitch when he got in trouble this year. He did a much better job than he did last year managing innings.”
Nova said he came back from spending most of July in the minors as a more aggressive pitcher, trying to get ahead on counts every time.
“I came (back) here with another mind-set — I don’t want to go back to the minor leagues,” Nova said. “I was making sure to do everything possible to not go back to the minors again.”
Girardi was impressed with the way he took the news flash of his demotion to Triple-A (making room at the time for Phil Hughes’ return to the rotation).
“Extremely impressed,” Girardi said. “It would have been easy for him to storm out or to talk to his buddies and tell them how unhappy he was, and I never heard anything. I never heard a word about his displeasure with anything that we did. He just went to work, and that’s unusual, because usually you hear something through the grapevine. But not this time.”
Nova went 12-0 with a 3.25 ERA in his last 16 starts. He’s in line for a possible Game 5, too.
“Nova had a lot of talent and I was pleased with what he did last year,” Girardi said. “It’s just been the maturation of him that’s gotten him to this point. He wasn’t rushed, and he got a chance to throw a lot of innings. He kind of flew under the radar, and it probably helped him because when you come up a lot of times in a Yankees rotation, you’re not asked to be the second starter or third starter. You’re asked to be a fourth or a fifth just because there’s that experience. And that can help as well.”
And to think, Nova’s family only wanted 10 wins out of him this season.
“I tell them I don’t want 10,” Nova said. “I don’t think 10 is enough. They are really happy with me. I’m so happy with what I did this year. Everything I do this year was especially for my family (and) for my grandfather. He died last year. He wanted to see me in the playoffs. He doesn’t have a chance to see me right now. I know he’s happy with me right now.”
A.J. Burnett, who could be the Game 4 starter now, if necessary, has been a friend and mentor to Nova, helping him with personal stuff and pitching stuff, like when Nova struggled at times last season and early this season.
“Before I pitch, he always was telling me, don’t give them a reason to take me out of the game,” Nova said. “During the game, I was thinking when I have a situation that could be trouble with me, that’s what I was thinking.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland expressed some concern over facing Nova, something they haven’t done this season. Nova did make his big-league debut in May 2010 with two innings of scoreless relief against Detroit.
“The tapes I’ve looked at, he’s very impressive,” Leyland said. “It’s something our hitters will have to contend with.”
Here’s Nova speaking before Friday’s game was rained out.
This post was written by Brian Heyman
Associated Press photo