Despite the double and the walk and the home run, it was easy to understand why the Yankees felt so overwhelmingly positive about today’s spring debut of Manny Banuelos. Find that same sort of silver lining for Ivan Nova was a little more difficult. Facing one of the least imposing lineups in the American League, Nova allowed three runs on eight hits through four innings. Balls were hit hard, and in the early innings they were hit often.
“Everything would stay up,” Nova said. “It was kind of hard for me to keep it down, and they took advantage of it. Even the second inning, they were hitting the ball real good.”
So why did Joe Girardi consider this a step forward?
“You look at his outings so far, they’ve been pretty easy,” Girardi said. “Today I thought was a good outing because he found it. He struggled in the first inning finding some sink and finding his curveball, and I thought he did a good job of finding himself and giving us four innings and really not throwing a ton of pitches.”
In fact, after a 21-pitch first inning, Nova threw so few pitches that he had to throw 10 more in the bullpen when he’d finished his allotment of four innings. Four of the first five batters he faced had a base hit, and the only exception was a hard-hit ball that Zoilo Almonte caught with a dive in left field. He only got out of the inning when Francisco Cervelli threw out a base runner. Three batters into the second inning, the Astros had two more hits and another run.
Second time through the order, though, Nova allowed one hit and pitched around an error. He struck out four of the last 10 batters he faced. He called it a mechanical adjustment, not the kind of mental lapse that has so often given him trouble in the past. His stride was off center, letting him drift toward first base instead of staying true to the plate.
“Make an adjustment in the third and fourth inning,” Nova said. “That’s one of the things you’re looking for in spring training. When you have one or two bad innings, you make adjustments. … When you, like, keep the ball up, for me that doesn’t have to do with nothing mentally. It’s just physical. Maybe your mechanics aren’t the same. Maybe your arm is not there. When I talk about mentally, that’s just a mistake that I make, an unnecessary mistake. Sometimes the catcher has a pitch in mind, I don’t want to go with that pitch, and then I give up a home run. That’s a (mental) mistake.”
Physical mistakes can be cleaned up in spring training, and Nova did that today. The first two innings weren’t pretty, but Nova was focused on those last two innings when he found his mechanics and pitched well again.
· Good second game for Mark Teixeira, who doubled sharply to left field and drew a walk. He also made a pretty good charging play on a sacrifice bunt. “I really am knocking off rust,” Teixeira said. “Two days ago, it was just being out there. You’re not used to covering first base, going after foul balls and coming in on bunts, stuff like that. Just continuing to knock off some rust, get my legs in shape, get my swing in shape, try and see a lot of pitches. I’m glad I saw a walk today; that was a good step for me, just seeing pitches. Hopefully I’ll continue to do that.”
· Teixeira still has yet to swing and miss, and he has yet to check his swing. He’s said that both will be significant tests for his surgically repaired right wrist. Today’s double came right-handed, and it’s his left-handed swing that causes the most concern. Even so, Teixeira sounds encourage. “Even better than the other day, which is good,” he said. “No complaints so far.”
· If you’re curious, Teixeira said he’s been taking about 120 swings each day (60 from each side). He used to do more like 140-160 swings each day, and he used to use a weighted bat, but he’s cut back on the reps and he’s dropped the heavy bat altogether. “There are a lot of guys that can go out there and swing 500 times a day,” Teixeira said. “Carlos Beltran swings and swings and swings; I don’t know how he does it. Other guys, all they need is 20 or 30 swings a day and they’re locked in. I’m kind of in between. I’m right in the middle. I need a lot of swings, but I do have to be careful.”
· Kelly Johnson hit his first spring home run in the third inning. He has five RBI this spring. “Honestly, that was pure trying to get him over, and I caught it out front,” he said. “Always good to remember what it feels like. Better than not hitting one all spring and then going into the season trying to remember, ‘Back in September, when I hit my last one…,’ you know what I mean?”
· Just for the record, when I try to think back to my last home run, I have to go back a lot farther than September. But that’s just me.
· Johnson is scheduled to play first base tomorrow. It will be his first time at first this spring. He’ll be considered a backup option there this season.
· Yankees got their first look at the new instant replay system when the Astros challenged a second-inning call at first base. The call stayed as it was on the field — the runner was out — and the whole process took such little time that Nova didn’t throw a single warm-up pitch after the delay. “It was quick,” Nova said. “The play, it wasn’t that difficult to see. But it doesn’t bother me because they still give me a couple of pitches (if necessary). They told me, if you want to throw, go ahead and throw. It’s pretty good when you get to throw. It’s not the same when they don’t give you pitches (during a delay).”
· Girardi said he considered challenging a call in the fourth inning when Brett Gardner flied to right and it looked like George Springer might have dropped the ball on the warning track. Girardi was on his way onto the field when the coaches assigned to monitor replays signaled that the ball was indeed caught. “So I told the pitcher from Houston that he was out and I was walking back,” Girardi said.
· One other replay note: Girardi said he’s been telling his players that they now have to play out every third out until it’s absolutely certain the play is over. If an out is overturned and a play is allowed to continue, Girardi doesn’t want his players to have stopped running. “We’re going to have to deal with these continuation plays where the player thinks it’s the third out,” Girardi said. “A player is not trained to play for four outs, so I’m sure there will be some adjustments along the way.”
· Game notes: Two-hit game for Dean Anna. He was also charged with an error on a high throw that pulled Teixeira off the bag. … Austin Romine also had two hits for the Yankees, and Yangervis Solarte had yet another hit. Zelous Wheeler, Brett Gardner, Zoilo Almonte and Mason Williams also had hits. Williams’ was a double. He also walked and made a good throw from right field (but didn’t get the guy out). … Chase Whitley struck out the only guy he faced and picked up the win. Nice work if you can get it. … David Herndon made his spring debut with a hitless inning. Cesar Cabral and Fred Lewis also pitched hitless innings. Chris Leroux allowed two hits in the ninth, but ultimately pitched another scoreless inning for his first save.
· Good to see my old friend and new Astros beat writer Evan Drellich here in Kissimmee. He’s reporting that the Astros will honor Derek Jeter either April 2 or April 3 in Houston. Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens are each expected to be there.
· Random note about the Manny Banuelos outing: In the clubhouse afterward, Francisco Cervelli said he hadn’t seen any radar readings, but he guessed that Banuelos was throwing 92 mph. Girardi said it was actually 93. That’s pretty solid mental radar work by Cervy.
· Let’s give the final word to Cervelli, talking about Banuelos: “He asked me, ‘What do you think about it?’ I said, ‘I don’t care. You’ve got the fastball and you’ve got everything, so you’re healthy. Next time you pitch, I promise it’s going to be perfect because you’ve got the confidence back.’”
Associated Press photos