It’s most convenient to look back at the demotion — at that moment exactly three months ago when Ivan Nova was shipped to the minor leagues — and assign that as the moment his season turned around. But Nova says you have to go back farther, to the triceps injury that sent him to the disabled list with a 6.48 ERA at the end of April.
“I wasn’t throwing for a couple of days and getting my treatment,” Nova said. “You’ve just got to focus on mentally (being sharp), because I know that part really affected me last year. At the beginning of the year, I was putting pressure on myself to do a good job every time, and sometimes you kind of go away from what you want to do. … I went to Tampa and took that time over there to really think about what I want to do and what I want to be at the end of the season. I forget about the past, get healthy first, and do what I have to do.”
Nova returned at the end of May and was shipped to Triple-A after just two relief appearances. It came as little surprise considering his second half of last season and the way he’d been pitching before the injury. Little did the Yankees know, Nova was already a different pitcher.
“It just seems like his mound presence is a little better when he’s throwing like this,” Derek Jeter said.
Three months after sending Nova to the minors, Joe Girardi sent Nova to finish off a big win against the Orioles. Even with the heart of the Orioles order coming to the plate, even when the leadoff man reached on an infield single, and even with Mariano Rivera available in the bullpen, Girardi stuck with Nova through the final out.
“We have Mo in the bullpen waiting,” Nova said. “But that made me feel really good because he has confidence in me.”
Said Girardi: “There wasn’t anything I didn’t like. Everything I kept seeing was positive, positive, positive.”
Two things that are easy to notice about Nova’s resurgence:
1. His fastball. “He doesn’t really have to pinpoint location,” Chris Stewart said. “He’s just throwing it to an area and letting it move, let it do what it’s going to do.”
2. His curveball. “When he has that good curveball working, where it’s got the real sharp bite down action, you know he’s going to be successful,” Stewart said.
But the change is deeper than that. It’s a confidence that Nova showed late in 2011; a confidence that showed up again tonight when Nova labeled his past two months as “unbelievable.”
“Part of this game is having success and part of it is struggling,” Girardi said. “When you’re struggling, it’s figuring how to get out of those struggles. In each game, you’re probably going to have a little bit of a struggle, but if you can get out of a monumental struggle, those struggles seem less and you can self-correct yourself when you’re on the mound because pitchers are going to lose it in the course of a game for maybe a hitter or two. To me, he figured out what I have to do to be successful; how I have to keep my fastball down better, and how I have to use my curveball. To me, the struggles will probably help him in the long run.”
• Giradi on the Rodriguez illness: “He’s got what I got. I finally turned the corner today. I feel better than I did yesterday. He wanted to play. He was sick last night; he was really sick last night, and he played. I texted him this morning and he said he wanted to try. He did some work in the cage, and then we saw him, and he just didn’t look good. He was pale. Hopefully tomorrow he’s a lot better.”
• Good looking out by the Japanese reporters — or one in particular, but I’m sure they all knew — who noticed that Hiroki Kuroda didn’t throw his scheduled bullpen today. Girardi dismissed it as a non-issue, but it’s curious considering Kuroda’s recent struggles. “Sometimes guys just skip their bullpens,” Girardi said. That’s actually true, but it usually has something to do with fatigue or some other issue.
• Eduardo Nunez said he felt fine today and is fully ready to play. “I’m good,” he said.
• Both of Nova’s complete games this season have come against the Orioles. He’s pitched two of the Yankees five complete games this season. CC Sabathia also has two and Hiroki Kuroda has one.
• Nova is 11-2 in 17 career starts in the month of August. He went 4-0 this August and 5-0 in August of 2011. He’s currently undefeated in six straight starts with a 2.08 ERA in those games. He’s pitched into the seventh inning in each of his past 10 starts overall, spanning from his previous complete game to this one.
• Jeter wasn’t fooled by Ichiro’s play on that Chris Davis fly ball in the ninth: “I thought Ichi was deking him, I really did,” Jeter said. “He hit it well, but he hit it high. I didn’t think it would go.”
• Nova said, despite Ichiro’s reaction, he never thought the Davis ball was a home run. That said, it’s Davis hitting a ball hard. “Any time that guy gets the ball in the air, you always hold your breath,” Stewart said.
• The Yankees had Mariano Rivera warming in the ninth, but Girardi said he was never too tempted to give him the ball. Not even after the leadoff man reached. “To me, if (Nova) walks him, it might be a little bit different,” Girardi said. “But he got a ground ball. And he’d gotten a ton of ground balls, and in that situation you’re looking for a double play, and he’d been getting a lot of ground balls all day so I decided to leave him in.”
• Jeter made a nice play to help turn a double play in the eighth. That was a huge play after Nova’s only walk of the game. How’s Jeter’s defense? “Just good enough to make that play and turn a double play,” Jeter said. “I feel fine. You get more comfortable the more games you play.”
• Remember how good Robinson Cano was down the stretch last year? He’s getting pretty hot again right now, including both RBI today. “Probably in the long run, those couple of days off (after the HBP) will probably help him,” Girardi said.
• Today’s home run moved Cano into a tie with Bill Dickey for the 15th-most homers in Yankees history with 202.
• Subbing into the lineup after Rodriguez was scratched, Lyle Overbay responded with a 2-for-3 that snapped an 0-for-15.
• The Yankees have won a season-high six straight home games, their longest winning streak at Yankee Stadium since seven straight in September of last year. They are no 32-0 in home games in which they have held a lead of at least two runs, according to Elias.
• Final word goes to Girardi: “It’s going to take a real team effort to get to play in October, but you get starts like this, and you score runs like yesterday, you’ve got a shot.”
Associated Press photos