By the end of the day, the Yankees should have a better idea of what to expect from Hiroki Kuroda. An MRI came back clean, but does Kuroda’s sore hip flexor need a few weeks or a few days? Can he make another start within this turn through the rotation?
That’s a pretty significant evaluation for a team that’s leaned pretty heavily on Kuroda for two years now.
For the time being, though, tonight is Ivan Nova’s show. With the Yankees riding a four-game winning streak, and finally showing some offense, the Yankees could match their longest winning streak of the season. And it’s Nova who’s making the spot start, his second since returning from the minors on June 23.
“You don’t want nobody to get hurt,” Nova said. “But what can I do? I just got to take advantage of the opportunity that God gave me right now. It’s not the way that you want to be pitching, but there’s nothing I can do.”
Nova’s been a perplexing figure in the past year and a half. Coming off that strong finish to 2011, Nova started strong last season but finished so poorly that he was left off the postseason roster. He got off to such a rocky start this year that he was eventually banished to the minor leagues, with the Yankees still not sure what to do with him going forward.
But recent signs have been encouraging. He pitched 5.2 innings of long relief on Saturday, and he pitched a somewhat erratic but ultimately solid 6.2 innings on the day he returned.
“I think the start helped him more than anything,” Joe Girardi said. “I think the start more than coming out of the bullpen, because that’s not something he’s used to. I thought he was really good when he started that game against Tampa.”
Said Nova: “Besides that I’m pitching good, I don’t really see any change. I’m just trying to be aggressive and throw strikes like I’m always thinking. The first starts, I couldn’t get it done, but now I’m pitching better. My mechanics are still the same. My pitches are still there. I’m getting more confident with myself and maybe that helps a little more.”
It’s still not clear what the Yankees will do with Nova going forward. David Phelps pitched well yesterday, and Phil Hughes was awfully good two days before that. The Yankees clearly hope Kuroda’s spot isn’t open for long. For Nova, there’s plenty to be decided, but the Yankees need him tonight.
“I can say that I put myself in this position,” Nova said. “I wasn’t pitching good enough in the second half last year, and the way I started wasn’t good. I did put myself in this position. … It’s a good opportunity. (The Orioles) have a really good team, and it’s a good chance I have to show what I’ve got, try to win a game for the team.”
Associated Press photo