Here’s the unusual reality that Ivan Nova faces this spring: He can’t pinpoint an exact reason for last year’s second-half struggles, and without that clarity he can only lean on those things that worked in the past, which are basically the same things he was trying to do when things were going badly. In other words, Nova has no plans to make a drastic change, he simply has to believe that the results will be better.
“I don’t think I’ve got to prove anything to myself,” Nova said. “I know what I’ve got. I see a lot of veteran pitchers go through the same thing, go through that, and then find a way to get out of it. Hopefully this year will be better.”
A fresh start. That’s what Nova called it. He’s been very good for long stretches in the big leagues, but those stretches haven’t defined him any more than last year’s 7.05 ERA after the All-Star break. Nova’s defining moments are still to come, beginning with this spring’s competition for the last spot in the Yankees rotation.
“I was in competition when I had the season that I had (last year),” Nova said. “Last year was a competition. This year’s going to be a competition. For me, next year is going to be a competition. Like I told one of the guys, CC got $100-something million. (With that contract) I can sit down, and it’s not a competition, (but) for me, every year is a competition. … I’m confident at the same time that I’m going to be there. I cannot sit here and let things happen. I’ve got to go and fight for it.”
Larry Rothschild has said that Nova should be considered a favorite for the rotation, but Joe Girardi didn’t go quite that far.
“He has to go out and prove himself, that’s the bottom line, because of what he went through the second half of last season,” Girardi said. “He has to earn a job. You’d like to think that every starter would go out and earn a job, but we know that’s not realistic. I don’t think we’re going to look at CC’s numbers real heavily, or Kuroda’s.”
• In the fifth starter competition, is David Phelps actually at a disadvantage because he’s proven he can have success out of the bullpen? “When we talk about our pitching staff we talk about how they work together as 12 and not just five,” Girardi said. “He did a really good job in that role, but we’re going to look at him as a starter going into camp because that’s what we project him as in the future. And we’ll make adjustments as we have to.”
• Nova threw a 35-pitch bullpen today but has yet to face hitters. Phelps threw 30 pitches to live hitters. “Some of these guys are (ahead of the normal schedule) knowing that we had some games pretty quickly,” Girardi said. “Some of the guys that are ahead of schedule have been down in Tampa for a while, and it works out well, actually.”
• CC Sabathia said on Tuesday that he would throw a bullpen today. Why didn’t he? “I always thought it was (supposed to be) Saturday,” Girardi said. “There might have been a little confusion. There’s nothing wrong with him.”
• Brian Cashman said he thinks it’s realistic to think Michael Pineda could be with the Yankees by June, but he cautioned that there’s still a lot of uncertainty involved. “Mike’s doing well so far,” Cashman said. “He’s completing his first week on a full mound, he’s had no setbacks, he’s worked hard and it’s a very serious surgery he’s coming back from. No guarantees, but so far we’re cautiously optimistic.”
• Girardi said he’s not sure when new reliever Shawn Kelley will arrive in Yankees camp. “He’s another power arm, and a guy that has been used late in games,” Girardi said. “He’s a guy who can give you two innings if you need that, and I think that’s important that you have guys that can do different things. I think it gives you a healthy competition in that bullpen, for some of the spots down there, and he pitched pretty well for Seattle.”
• Cashman on the Kelley acquisition: “Good arm. He’s got a swing-and-miss slider. He’s got an option. We like his ability, and we felt the more the merrier. He’ll come in and compete for a spot on the team. If not, we’ll have another real quality choice to turn to at Triple-A if we need it.”
• Cashman said there’s no new information on Alex Rodriguez, who’s supposed to get to New York for rehab work tomorrow. Cashman said Rodriguez is not expected in Tampa at any point this spring.
• There were apparently two trips of pitchers going to throw batting practice at the minor league complex. The first group got there in time to do their scheduled work, but the second group turned around because of rain. That group wound up throwing indoor bullpens — not facing hitters — at the big league complex.
• Kevin Youkilis was in the clubhouse for a few minutes today. There weren’t many pitchers in the clubhouse at the time, but he did have a huge hug for one of them. It was, of all people, Juan Cedeno. The lefty played his early pro years in the Red Sox system. Those two must have known one another back then. There was also an Eduardo Nunez sighting today.
• Youkilis said he flew a red eye from California and landed in Tampa at 6:30 this morning. He essentially went straight to the minor league complex to work out. “You got to get acclimated,” Youkilis said. “I had enough sleep. Starbucks does you well. It was fine. It’s like a normal season.”
• Girardi said, as far as he knows, no position players are expected to report late because of visa issues or any other travel complication.
• Finally, here’s Phelps explaining how he went from wearing No. 41 last season to wearing No. 35 when he first got to spring training to now wearing No. 41 again (Pineda is wearing No. 35). “I really don’t know,” Phelps said. “I came in one day I was 35, came in the next day I was 41. I know Mike was 35 last year. He might have wanted it. It’s a number. Playing for the name on the front, not so much what’s on the back.” Phelps wore 35 in college and in the minors.
Associated Press photos