Joe Girardi left no wiggle room. In fact, he seemed surprised by the question. In the face of overwhelmingly bad starts, is Girardi fully committed to Ivan Nova’s spot in the rotation?
“I mean, yeah,” Girardi said. “This guy has won a lot of ballgames for us so, yeah.”
Nova allowed seven runs on 11 hits tonight. In his previous start, he allowed nine runs on 10 hits. Before that, he walked six guys. Nova’s ERA is above 8.00 since the All-Star break, and he’s won once since June 17. He has allowed at least six earned runs four times this year, three of those coming in his past five starts.
“They’re hitting everything,” Nova said. “It’s not one pitch in particular. They’re hitting everything.”
As he paced around the mound tonight, Nova’s confidence looked shaken, and Girardi pulled him after just 68 pitches. Nova, though, said his confidence is the same as ever. He’s just not making pitches.
“His slider didn’t have much bite to it,” Russell Martin said. “Made a couple of mistakes with that pitch. Tried to get the curveball going too, but then it was a little bit inconsistent. You just really have to rely on your fastball. Against a good offensive team, it’s going to be a tough day, and that’s what happened. … I don’t know if confidence, it’s just executing pitches when you need to. When you get ahead of a hitter 0-2, you try and put him away and you leave a breaking ball over the plate where it gets hit. It’s frustrating. I don’t know if it’s a confidence thing more than just a feel thing on the mound.”
Whatever it is, Nova’s going to have to get it figured out on a big league mound, because the Yankees plan to hand him the ball in five days. Martin and Girardi both specifically mentioned Nova’s slider needing improvement — “When he’s been pitching good he’s had that slider, and lately we haven’t had that,” Martin said — but Nova seemed to think the problem was bigger than a single breaking ball.
“I’m not the only pitcher in baseball who is going through a bad time right now,” Nova said. “I know I’m going to get out of this one. … I’m not worried about (losing a spot in the rotation). I’m not worried about ERA or anything like that. I just want to help the team to win games. That’s the most important thing, help the team to win games. I’m not worrying about ERA. The ERA is more like a personal thing. I want to win games, no matter how, just win games for this team.”
• Justin Verlander is really, really good. Of course, we already knew that, but tonight was a reminder. Verlander matched his career-high with 14 strikeouts, and the only Yankees runs were unearned after Verlander’s own error in the fifth. “We’ve faced him before and we scored, (other times) he’s shut us down,” Derek Jeter said. “Lots of times, great pitchers get a little nastier when they have guys on base. They seem to bear down a little bit. He did that today. We scored those two runs, but the other opportunities, he pitched well. There’s a reason why he’s one of the best in the game. He showed that tonight.”
• The Yankees weren’t too happy with the strike zone early in the game, but afterward, they didn’t seem particularly worked up about it. “It looked like was a bit generous,” Martin said. “But he was pretty consistent on both sides. Verlander just seemed like he was hitting those spots more than we were.”
• Girardi got into a shouting match with home plate umpire Tony Randazzo in the middle of the second inning, and it got a little heated when — according to Girardi — Randazzo stared into the Yankees dugout as if asking for a fight. “I didn’t care for some of the strikes early in the game,” Girardi said. “And we were talking back and forth and he looked at me and stared at me. I don’t get it. When the inning’s over, walk the other way. It’s pretty simple.”
• Tony Pena seemed to be keeping Girardi from being tossed from the game, but Girardi said that wasn’t a huge factor in keeping him calm. “I threw Tony off me pretty easy,” Girardi said. “If I want to go, Tony’s not going to hold me back.”
• The Tigers first two runs came on solo homers by Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. The fourth-inning shot by Cabrera was a monster, estimated at more than 450 feet to center field.
• The Yankees got their two runs after Verlander dropped the ball while covering first base on what should have been the final out of the fifth inning. Jeter and Robinson Cano followed with RBI hits, but that was the extent of the scoring.
• Jeter had his 43rd multi-hit game. … Cano also had two hits. … Eric Chavez had a terrific game with three hits and a great night in the field. … Martin had the only other Yankees hit. He also reached on an error.
• Joba Chamberlain’s second appearance off the disabled list was much better than his first. Chamberlain allowed two hits and struck out one through 1.2 innings. His fastball reached 97 mph on the stadium gun. “Everything just felt a little rushed in the first one,” Chamberlain said. “Today just felt more compact, more fluid and I was able to throw everything for a strike. Obviously there’s still stuff we have to continue to work on but as far as being able to go out and throw any pitch in any count, I felt really good with it.”
• Last word goes to Nova: “I’m giving up so many runs the last two times, but I still have my confidence up, and I know I can do better than this. I’ve got to work harder than what I’m working, try to make the next one better. … I’m trying to get the pitch, my slider, to what I need it. I’m trying to make pitches, going into the bullpen and thinking like it’s the game, and doing what I’m supposed to do during the game, and then bringing it into the game.”
Associated Press photos