Starts like this are becoming the norm for Ivan Nova, and tonight Joe Girardi was asked whether it’s a foregone conclusion that David Phelps will be the one pulled from the rotation if/when CC Sabathia comes off the disabled list in Cleveland.
“I mean, we haven’t talked about what we’re going to do,” Girardi said. “We’re not that far along. I told you, we got to wait to make sure CC is OK tomorrow before we make any decisions. … Our plan is for (Nova) to start.”
Not so long ago, after a similar rough start, Girardi was adamant that Nova’s spot in the rotation was secure. This time, Girardi didn’t indicate that Nova’s job was in doubt, but his commitment was not nearly as bold. At this point, Nova’s made eight starts since the All-Star break. In those starts, he’s 1-4 with a 7.28 ERA. The sample size is no longer tiny. It’s becoming a problem.
“I feel so bad that I got the lead one more time and I screwed up,” Nova said. “I’m really mad at myself right now. I’m not happy. I’m just mad. I’m not doing my job, and I don’t feel good about that.”
Girardi said it’s a matter of consistency. At times, Nova’s throwing good pitches down in the zone, but far too often he’s leaving balls up and over the plate.
“He’s never been a pinpoint control guy,” Russell Martin said. “But normally he keeps the ball down and then throws his breaking ball off that. I think that’s what’s happening right now, he’s just leaving some balls up and over the middle of the plate. … I think he trusts his ability. He might be getting a little frustrated out there, not getting the results that he wants. The effort’s there. He pitches with passion. He’s a competitor. He’s just not getting the results that he wants. Just got to keep fighting through it.”
Nova said he’s not worried about his spot in the rotation, but I can’t help wondering what the Yankees might have in mind if Andy Pettitte were healthy or if Joba Chamberlain were pitching well. Even with Pettitte still on the disabled list and Chamberlain struggling, Nova’s steady struggles must be cause for concern. At this point, Phelps is clearly out-pitching him, it’s just a matter of whether the Yankees would rather use Phelps to replace Nova in the rotation or to help the struggling bullpen.
“(Nova)’s struggled, no doubt,” Girardi said. “The second half he has struggled. He has not located like he did in the first half. His offspeed has not been consistent. We’ve just got to keep working at it. That ‘s all you can do. … He knows what he has to do. You see him make one good pitch. It’s consistency in your mechanics. He knows what he has to do.”
• Tampa Bay lost to the Royals, so the Yankees division lead remained at four games. “I never said that we were going to win by 10 games,” Girardi said before the game. “All along I said we’ve got a lot of work to do, and I really feel that. Am I surprised it’s gotten this close? Teams go through things. Teams get hot. Teams struggle. That’s why you play the 162.”
• If you’re looking for answers from Nova, keep looking. He doesn’t seem to have this figured out any better than any one else. “It seems like when I have men on base, that’s something I have to look at,” he said. “… It’s hard to say. I was looking at my videos and I don’t see anything (mechanical).”
• As the fifth inning unwound, Girardi chose to stick with Nova. “He’d given up two runs up to that point and hadn’t given up a lot of hits,” Girardi said. “The hits he’d given up were a triple and a home run, but if we go to the bullpen that early again, you start to run out of pitchers. … He’s still facing Youkilis (even if the bullpen were rested). That was the big hit.”
• The Youkilis at-bat: “That’s a situation where you’re trying to get ahead of the hitter,” Martin said. “And as soon as you get behind, you’re in a rough spot. Youkilis put a good swing on it. I didn’t think that ball was going to go, but it kinda carries over here. That was a big blow.”
• Nova allowed more runs tonight than in his four previous career starts against the White Sox combined.
• The Yankees have lost back-to-back games at this ballpark for the first time since 2008-09 when they lost four in a row. This will be the Yankees first losing road series since that four-game sweep in Oakland.
• Derek Jeter moved into sole possession of 11th place on baseball’s all-time hits list, passing Eddie Murray. He also hit his 29th career leadoff homer and his 252nd home run overall. That moved him into a tie with former manager Joe Torre for career homers.
• Each of the Yankees past 11 home runs have been solo shots, including tonight’s homers by Jeter and Martin.
• Mark Teixeira has a hit in 11 of his last 12 games, batting .319 with three home runs and eight RBI in that span.
• Nick Swisher has a hit in nine of his past 10 games and is hitting .368 with four homers and 12 RBI in that span.
• After that two-run first inning, Francisco Liriano shut down the Yankees to get his first win with the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. “We had some opportunities,” Girardi said. “He just made some big pitches when he had to. Our guys made him work. He was about at 100 after five innings. We made him work. We just weren’t able to get a lot of runs off of him.”
• Final word goes to Martin, speaking about Nova: “He was a bit erratic with his fastball. And for him, everything comes off the fastball. He’s always been a contact pitcher. His best breaking ball’s been his curveball, lately. When he’s been really good, he’s had both. He’s had a slider and his curveball. And he’s been better with his fastball. I’ve definitely seen him better than he was tonight, but he’s just going to have to battle through it.”
Associated Press photos