With all of the injuries and Mariano retirement talk and A-Rod hoopla, one of the best stories of this 2013 Yankees season hasn’t received much attention. Ivan Nova went from being demoted to the minor leagues to arguably the Yankees’ best starter of late, and his progress was acknowledged yesterday when he was named the AL Pitcher of the Month for August.
“Probably a lot,” Joe Girardi said when asked what the award means to Nova. “It’s just a testimony to if you accept things and go down and work on them, and your mind is right, what you can really accomplish. Sometimes people get caught up in, ‘I shouldn’t be doing this,’ or, ‘I didn’t deserve this,’ but he took the demotion, had a great attitude, went and found himself, and it’s really paid off – for him, and for us.”
Nova went 4-0 in August with a 2.08 ERA, 12 walks and 31 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings over six starts. While big names like CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda have struggled, Nova has been the rock of the Yankees’ rotation.
At the time he was sent down in late May, the right-hander had a 5.16 ERA. He returned to the big leagues less than a month later, and has lowered his ERA to 2.88 with quality start after quality start. It really has been a remarkable turnaround.
“I think he learned to command his baseball down in the zone – the fastball down in the zone. Not worrying so much about hitting corners, but just having it down in the zone with movement. I think that has been really, really important to him,” Girardi said. “I also think the consistency of his curveball came back when he started throwing it a lot more, and he’s thrown his changeup a little bit, as well. Maybe not 20 percent of the time or 30 percent of the time, but he has thrown it and gotten strikes. It’s just another look when you’re going through a lineup the second, third and fourth time. It becomes important.”
• When Nova is right, he has a certain swagger on the mound, and we’ve seen that from him since his return. “I think you see it a lot,” Girardi said. “When you’re throwing the baseball like he is, you probably should feel some confidence out there. He’s getting his strikeouts when he needs them, he’s getting a lot of groundball outs, and that’s important in a park like this and when you’re playing a team like this.”
• Nova will have the opportunity to set the tone tonight in a crucial series against the rival Boston Red Sox. At this point, the Yankees realistically have their sights set on the wild card more so than the division (they sit eight games behind Boston coming into tonight’s game, while they’re only two and half games behind Tampa Bay for the final wild card), but their recent hot streak has definitely added some juice to this four-game set. “I think it means a lot,” Girardi said. “I think it means probably more to us because of where we are in the standings. They’ve got a little bit of a cushion here with some of the troubles that the other teams have had, but it means a lot to us and if you’re in their shoes, you’re fighting for home field advantage.”
• As Chad wrote earlier today, I really don’t expect to see any retaliation from the Yankees for Ryan Dempster hitting A-Rod the last time that they played the Red Sox. There’s too much on the line in this series to take a chance of getting someone suspended, but Girardi was asked if that incident has been a rallying call for the team. “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe you can. It fired the team up a little bit – not that we weren’t fired up. I think anytime that you go to Boston, you’re going to be fired up. But sometimes incidents like that can change things. I’m not saying that it actually did, but sometimes it can. And we’ve played pretty well since then.”
• With the Rays playing on the West Coast, Girardi was asked if he’s stayed up to watch their games the past few nights. “Not to completion,” he said, joking about not being able to stay up that late, but he also doesn’t want to focus too much on what other teams are doing. “The big thing is you have to continue to play well,” he said. “If you look at it, we have a chance to be in control of our own destiny because we’re really three behind them in the loss column and we have three games with them. We have to play well; that’s the bottom line. I don’t think you can get too caught up in what they’re doing, because there’s other teams who are around us, as well.”
• Mariano Rivera has been used two days in a row, and last night he came into record the final four outs. Logic tells you that he won’t be available tonight, but Girardi said he’s going to check with his closer before ruling him out. “I gotta see,” he said. “I don’t know yet. I think it’s only fair to let him play catch.”
• Brett Gardner — who definitely seems like one of Girardi’s favorite players — had two hits last night, including a big two-run triple in the fourth. He’s had a knack for extra-base hits recently, and Girardi has commented before about how he’s a great clubhouse guy. He was asked for some specific examples of how he keeps things loose, and Yankees director of media relations Jason Zillo chimed in, saying that Gardner is notorious for hiding his blue folder several times a week (the contents of said folder remain a mystery). “Gardy is a guy who likes to stir things up a little bit, and that’s probably just the best way to put it,” Girardi said with a laugh. “He likes to have fun and get people going.”
• Lastly, Girardi was asked about the progress of some of the few remaining injured players and if they expect any to return to the club this month. “We’re trying,” he said. “(Zoilo) Almonte is playing in Trenton tonight. He’ll play seven innings tonight in the playoff game there, and (Travis Hafner) has done one simulated game, he’s just not quite ready to go yet. And (Kevin Youkilis) has just really done some dry swings. Youk is probably the least probable of the three, and I think Almonte is probably the furthest ahead. And Phelpsie I think is going to throw a bullpen in the next few days. I’m not sure which day.”
• Here is Boston’s lineup: 1. Jacoby Ellsbury (CF); 2. Shane Victorino (RF); 3. Dustin Pedroia (2B); 4. David Ortiz (DH); 5. Daniel Nava (LF); 6. Mike Napoli (1B); 7. Stephen Drew (SS); 8. Ryan Lavarnway (C ); 9. Will Middlebrooks (3B). RHP Jake Peavy.
Associated Press photos