Brian McCann hasn’t seen the ups and downs. He didn’t see Ivan Nova struggle early last season, didn’t see him shipped to Triple-A mid-year, and he didn’t see Nova return with a dazzling 2.78 ERA in the second half. What McCann has seen is what’s happened here in Tampa. He’s seen a 6-foot-7 right hander who pounds the bottom of the zone and flips 12-to-6 curveballs for strikes.
This afternoon, McCann saw Nova throw 36 pitches, and get 31 of them over for strikes. That’s in Nova’s second spring start.
“When you’ve got good stuff, you can pound the zone all day long and you can go right at hitters (ahead) 0-2,” McCann said. “It doesn’t matter. He changes eye levels. He does so many good things. Today’s outing was beyond impressive.”
Three innings. No hits. No walks. Four strikeouts. The Nationals got two of his pitches in the air. That was the latest Nova effort. Joe Girardi said he was impressed by Nova’s willingness to use his changeup against right-handers, and his ability to expand the zone and actually get a strikeout with his sinker.
“Love where he’s at right now,” Girardi said.
Of course, while Nova might be new to McCann, he’s not new to Girardi. The Yankees are well aware of just how good Nova can be. They’re also well aware that he’s shown a tendency to let that dominant stuff slip away. He’s talked about losing focus from time to time. He’s been great for long stretches, and he’s struggled for months at a time. Sitting at his locker today, Nova said he’s set many goals for this season, but he wouldn’t reveal them. Wouldn’t reveal most of them, anyway.
“I don’t want to be going back and forth every time,” he said. “I just want to be a pitcher that the team can trust every five days. I just want to do my job every five days. That’s one of the goals that I really want, that I want to be consistent. I think I can do that and be really good. My body feels good, so I’ll just wait until the season and prove what I can do.”
The only other goal Nova would discuss? A championship. And if he’s going to add consistency to his already terrific raw stuff — if he can be a No. 4 who pitches more like a No. 2 — the chances of the Yankees making a championship run would surely increase significantly. He already has one believer in the new guy behind the plate.
“There’s not many 6-7 guys that are able to get the ball to do what he does,” McCann said. “I haven’t really caught anybody similar to him. … There is no ceiling on a guy like him. He can do whatever he wants. If he gets into a groove, he can ride it out for a full season. Certain things click and players take their game to another level. He’s looking really good down here.”
· With the Yankees playing a night game tomorrow, and going on a fairly long road trip on Wednesday, Derek Jeter will play tomorrow night. He’ll play back-to-back rather than go on the road. Girardi said Jeter will start at DH.
· After taking live batting practice today, Mark Teixeira will be scheduled for more live batting practice on Tuesday, a day off from live pitching on Wednesday, and then the game on Thursday. Girardi said he’s also planning to have Alfonso Soriano make his spring debut on Thursday.
· Speaking of Teixeira’s batting practice session, Girardi said he was happy with what he saw from both Manny Banuelos and Jose Campos. “I thought Campos did a much better job today throwing strikes than he did the other day,” Girardi said. “I thought his mechanics were more sound. So that was encouraging too.”
· Banuelos was technically throwing a simulated game — not much difference between that and live BP, really — but it’s an indication that he’s a few steps ahead of Campos. Girardi said there’s a chance Banuelos will get in a game next (though Girardi also acknowledged that there’s a chance Banuelos will throw another sim game first). The pitching schedule is basically all on Larry Rothschild. Girardi is just following Rothschild’s plan.
· Dave Robertson plunked the first guy he faced today, but he followed that with a double play and a fly ball out in his spring debut. “It was OK,” Robertson said. “I got three outs. I can’t complain about that. I didn’t walk anybody. I accidentally hit the first batter on my second pitch. It was a decent outing. I felt like my velocity was good. I was behind everything. I pulled maybe five or six pitches that I shouldn’t have out of the zone. That was really it.”
· Because he needed just 36 pitches to get through three innings, Nova went to the bullpen after today’s game so that he could get up to 45 pitches. It’s worth remembering that in his previous start, 35 pitches wasn’t enough for Nova to get through the second inning. Much, much better today. “You want him attacking the zone, getting quick outs, getting us back in there, letting his fielders do some work behind him,” Girardi said. “He has the ability to strike people out. You get some quick outs, you get into games deep. That’s how you do it.”
· Girardi on Joe Namath: “It was a special day. I loved being around him. He was into it, too. He really was. He talked about how he played third base in high school and then he got moved to the outfield, and he liked the outfield better. But he talked about how at Alabama they wouldn’t let you play two sports back then.”
· Two random Namath notes: 1. Turns out, Yankees trainer Steve Donohue was some sort of interim trainer with the Jets back when Namath was playing, so those two knew one another already. 2. When Robertson was a freshman at Alabama, he had a class — he thought it was an English class — with Namath’s daughter, Jessica, who was here today, and Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson, who Robertson played summer baseball with during high school. Robertson said Wilson was a five-tool type baseball player. He and Jessica spent some time catching up in the Yankees dugout this morning.
· Game notes: Brett Gardner had a double and is quietly hitting .429 in these early spring games. Francisco Cervelli had a double and a single and is hitting .571. Does it count as analysis if I write that I’m expecting Cervelli’s average to dip at some point? … Kelly Johnson had an RBI double for his second RBI of the spring. Zoilo Almonte also doubled. He had a two-hit day. … Three errors today. Jeter made one on a ball up the middle. Not an easy play, but one you expect him to make. Corban Joseph had his second error of the spring and Addison Maruszak had his third. Jeter and Brian Roberts turned two double plays. … Shawn Kelley allowed a pretty long home run to center field. … Scoreless inning apiece for Robert Coello, Yoshinori Tateyama and Jim Miller.
· Last time Andy Pettitte showed up as a guest instructor, he was coming out of retirement within a few weeks. Not going to happen this time. “There’s nothing in the works, I promise y’all,” Pettitte said. “It’s been good. I’m just enjoying being home.”
· Final word will go to Jeter for two pretty funny lines: Asked if he was going to follow Namath’s lead and guarantee a Yankees championship, Jeter said: “No. He had less newspapers back then, less internet. The story would go viral now if that were the case.” I’d argue that the Namath guarantee went about as viral as something can go (we’re still talking about it) but still, Jeter’s line was funny. Even before he said that, Jeter was getting a bit of a hard time from Reggie Jackson about how Jeter wasn’t going to talk to him while he was with the media. “I always talk (around the media),” Jeter said. “I just don’t stir (stuff) up like you do.” Reggie had no comeback.
Associated Press photos