Despite earning a win for the second straight start last week in Anaheim, Ivan Nova knew he hadn’t “earned” it. He’d allowed five earned runs and 11 more baserunners in a start that was all too emblematic of his season.
In the wake of another so-so performance, Nova demanded more of himself. He worked on keeping his front side closed longer so his sinker could pound the bottom of the strike zone. The result was eight-plus innings of four-hit, one-run ball and a 4-1 Yankees’ win.
“He has an understanding of what he needs to get done. He wasn’t kidding himself,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “Sometimes, with young pitchers, they will delude themselves into thinking other things, but he knew. He knew he wasn’t throwing the ball the way he can and making the pitches that he should. That’s the start of making some adjustments. If you don’t feel like you need to do that, you’re not going to do it. But he knew after the game he needed to make some adjustments both mentally and physically and he did it tonight.”
The key word emanating throughout the Yankee clubhouse tonight was “aggressive.” That was the difference with this Nova, who attacked the Rays all night. He recorded 12 ground outs to just five fly outs, coming out on the better side of that ratio for just the fourth time in 12 starts.
“You know that’s when his stuff is on, when he’s getting ground ball outs with his fastball,” Joe Girardi said. “You know his ball is sinking and he’s locating where he wants to and he’s down in the zone.”
Nova allowed a leadoff single to Desmond Jennings in the first, but quickly erased the runner with a strikeout and a double play. He didn’t allow another hit until Sean Rodriguez slashed a double to right with one out in the eighth. Jennings and B.J. Upton later knocked Nova from the game with back-to-back triples to open the ninth, but Rafael Soriano retired three straight to strand Upton at third.
“That’s the type of start we expect from him,” Nick Swisher said of Nova.
For more on Nova’s outing, check out audio from Nova, Girardi and Rothschild…
• Nova improved to 4-0 with a 2.82 ERA in six career starts vs. Tampa. He has won his last four starts against the Rays, pitching to a 1.29 ERA in that stretch.
• Of course, the Yankees have pitched pretty well as a team during this turn in the rotation. They tossed a season-high 22 straight scoreless innings until the run scored in the ninth. It marked the club’s longest stretch since a 31-inning stretch from Aug. 7-9, 2009. The starters are 4-0 with a 1.64 ERA (38.1 IP, 25 H, 7 ER, 9 BB, 32 K, 3 HR) in their last turn through the rotation.
• Mark Teixeira hit a solo homer, his 10th, in the second. He now has five home runs and 13 RBI since May 23. He also reached double-digits in each of his 10 seasons, joining Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Adam Dunn and Carlos Lee as the only active players to do so.
• Robinson Cano also homered, giving him six in his last 17 games after swatting just three in his first 38.
• Rafael Soriano is now 8 for 8 in save chances this year. He escaped a jam in the ninth, getting Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist and Hideki Matsui to retire the side after entering with no one out and B.J. Upton on third in the ninth.
• Is the home run important to the Yankees? Um, yes. They are now 31-12 when hitting a homer and 23-5 when hitting two or more. Conversely, they are 0-12 when not homering.
• The Yankees are now just a half-game out of first. Those guys from Boston and your pal Josh Beckett could not hold a one-run lead. They lost to the Orioles, who still lead the division by a hair.