What to do with Ivan Nova? • 10.17.15
Still looking into some of the Yankees with undefined roles going forward, we’ll next look at an arbitration-eligible pitcher who, in his best moments, has been an excellent young starter. In his worst moments, he’s been nearly unusable. At times in recent years he’s been optioned to the minors or demoted to the bullpen, and his postseason role was uncertain at best. So what do with him now?
This year: Back from Tommy John surgery in late June, Nova was just as the Yankees remembered him. He was great for a while. Then he was awful for a while. Then he had another good start. Then he had a couple of bad starts. Nova can be good, but he hasn’t found a way to be consistent. Starting pitching is a valuable enough commodity that the Yankees aren’t going to turn him away, even if he’s owed a mild raise from his current $3.3-million contract.
A few possibilities for next season:
1. Put him back in the rotation and adjust from there
There’s no sure thing with Nova. Assuming the Yankees have Nova on their roster next year, they can’t fully commit to one thing or another. Best they can do is plan for one thing and adjust if necessary. The most optimistic decision would be to open the season with Nova in the rotation hoping his second year back from Tommy John surgery — along with maybe some age and experience — might help him finally find some of the consistency that he’s lacked in the past. Last time he made as many as 20 starts, Nova finished with a 3.10 ERA (and a 2.78 in the second half). He had a 3.10 through his first seven starts this season. Might as well see if he can boost the rotation for a while. If not, it’s easy enough to move him into the pen or simply move on.
2. Prioritize other starters and plan to try to him in the bullpen
Aside from seven relief appearances, most of which came early in his career, Nova’s never really been tested as a reliever. Certainly he’s never gotten a long look in that role. The Yankees made a mistake in never trying Tyler Clippard as a reliever before trading him away for what turned out to be pennies on the dollar. They have one more year of control over Nova. If they already know he can’t be reliable as a starting pitcher, maybe it time to give the bullpen a shot. And not as a fallback plan. The Yankees have other rotation candidates in place. Go into spring training with plans of using Nova strictly as a reliever. If four guys get hurt in spring training and Nova needs to be in the rotation, fine. Otherwise, see what he can do for an inning or two at a time.
3. Whatever he’s worth — a lot or a little — just trade him for something
Brian Cashman has already said Nova will be tendered a contract offer. Even at a little more than $4 million, Nova’s not going to break the bank, and he at least provides the possibility of a useful starting pitcher (maybe even a good starter for a while). He’s too valuable to non-tender, but that doesn’t mean the Yankees have to roll the dice on him. Some team out there would surely be interested in giving him a shot as a starter who’s not yet 30 and doesn’t require a long-term commitment. Hard to say what exactly he could bring in return — would probably vary wildly from team to team — but whatever the Yankees can get in return, even if it’s a nothing prospect, they could make the trade to either add depth elsewhere or add another young player while opening a 40-man roster spot.
Associated Press photo
The Yankees’ most significant free agents this winter are Stephen Drew, Chris Young and Chris Capuano (and maybe Brendan Ryan depending on a mutual option). That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room unless the Yankees designated some player for assignment or non-tender some guys who are arbitration eligible.
For now, it seems at least one of those arb-eligible players will be getting a contract.
According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees plan to tender a contract offer to Ivan Nova, who will be in his final season of arbitration eligibility. Nova will likely get a modest raise from his current $3.3 million contract.
In his first year back from Tommy John surgery, Nova pitched well out of the game. Through his first seven starts the 28-year-old had a 3.10 ERA. Through his next seven starts, though, Nova’s ERA was 7.46 with five loses, which prompted the Yankees to pull him from the rotation. His final three starts were a mixed bag: One good start, one bad start, one so-so start.
With Nova back under contract, the Yankees will have a long list of rotation options for next season with Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi. That’s to say nothing of Bryan Mitchell, Chase Whitley, possibly Brady Lail and potentially Adam Warren, who got a rotation endorsement from Brian Cashman last night.
“Warren did a great job for us,” Cashman said. “He’s a starter.”
Associated Press photo
Not even Joe Girardi could spin this as if it’s the Yankees’ best-case scenario. It’s not Plan A. Not Plan B. Not even Plan C. It’s simply the best of what’s left.
Nathan Eovaldi’s elbow is inflamed. Masahiro Tanaka’s hamstring is strained. Michael Pineda just pitched three days ago and Luis Severino pitched lsat night. And so, Ivan Nova is tonight’s Yankees starter for their series finale in Toronto.
A week ago, he was pulled from the rotation because he wasn’t reliable enough. Now he’s starting a game might be the Yankees’ best opportunity to stay in the hunt for the division.
Tanaka was lined up for this game, but he strained his hamstring running to first base on Friday, and so the Yankees had to find someone else. Their best option was the guy they kicked out of the rotation just a few days earlier, immediately after he allowed six runs in the second inning against this very same Blue Jays team.
Nova was 2-5 with a 7.46 ERA in his past seven starts before the Yankees bumped him to the bullpen.
“It’s not what you want to hear,” Nova said of his demotion. “You want to pitch every five days, but you also have to understand the situation. At the time, I wasn’t pitching great. I wasn’t winning games for the team, and at this point of the year, it’s what is best for the team.”
At times, Nova has been what’s best for the Yankees.
He had a 3.10 ERA through his first seven starts back from Tommy John surgery this season. He had a 2.59 through the final three months of 2013. He was fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2011.
But Nova’s career has been defined, not by his dominance, but by his extreme peaks and valleys.
Before that tremendous second half of 2013, he was so unreliable the Yankees optioned him to Triple-A. The year after his strong rookie season, Nova had a 5.02 ERA, including a 7.05 in the second half. He faded significantly this season.
And Nova can’t explain why that’s happened. Beyond the obvious – he hasn’t pitched as well – Nova can’t explain the difference between his good outings and his bad outings.
“I have a start like last time I pitched,” he said. “I feel like everything (was the same as earlier) this year, and look how I pitched. Whatever happened there, you start looking at some things. If you pitch good, you can find I did this different than I did last time. But you may pitch bad the next time, and you see the same thing that you did (in the good start).”
So what to expect tonight? All the Yankees can lean on are the high points in Nova’s career, and the fact he won a start in Toronto last month
“I’m going to have the chance to pitch again in something different now,” Nova said. “It’s an important game like always for us, but I got a chance to try to get a win for the team.”
• Obviously this day has been focused on the passing of Yogi Berra, and the Yankees will wear a No. 8 on their uniform sleeves for the rest of the season to honor the great catcher. Meredith Marakovits and some others tweeted pictures of the lineup card that will hang in the Yankees dugout tonight. It includes a picture of Yogi in the background. Very cool.
• Hal Steinbrenner said on ESPN Radio today that the Yankees will do “some nice things” to honor Berra at Yankee Stadium before tomorrow’s game. The Yankees rarely mess up moments like this. When it time to honor one of their greats, they tend to do it right.
• Alex Rodriguez had a press conference to talk about Yogi’s passing. He said that, through all of the ups and downs of his Yankees career, he always felt that Berra stuck with him. “I always appreciated that,” Rodriguez said.
• Funny story: Brett Gardner said Yogi always called him “shorty,” which is funny since Yogi was listed at 5-foot-8. “He’s Yogi Berra, he could call me whatever he wants,” Gardner said.
• According to a press release, the Empire State Building will be lit in blue and white stripes in honor of Berra tonight.
• Kinda cool story from my paper: Robert Brum talked to the actor who played Yogi in the movie *61. Turns out Yogi taught him to swing left-handed for the film. “You gotta make me look good,” Yogi told him.
• In non-Yogi news: Masahiro Tanaka will be examined by Yankees doctors tomorrow, but Dan Barbarisi said it still sounds like Tanaka will make his next start next week.
Associated Press photos
Joe Girardi just announced his rotation for the upcoming Mets series, and it leaves Masahiro Tanaka lined up to potentially make four more regular-season start, but perhaps not start a wild card game. The rotation for this weekend:
Friday: Masahiro Tanaka
Saturday: Michael Pineda
Sunday: CC Sabathia
Count the wild card game, there seems to be no way to get more than four more starts out of Tanaka before the division series. He can either start four regular-season games (but not the wild card game), or he can start three regular-season games and be lined up for the wild card. Assuming the Yankees want to prioritize the upcoming Toronto series — Girardi didn’t commit to a rotation for those three games — these seem to have been the two options for Tanaka’s next five starts:
EVERY FIFTH DAY THE REST OF THE SEASON
Friday: at Mets
Next Wednesday: at Blue Jays
September 28: vs. Red Sox
October 3: at Orioles
ALDS Game 1: On normal rest if the Yankees advance
MONDAY IN TORONTO, THEN EVERY FIFTH DAY
Monday: at Blue Jays
September 26: vs. White Sox
October 1: vs. Red Sox
October 6: Wild card game on normal rest
ALDS Game 3: On normal rest if Yankees advance
Granted, by starting Tanaka on Friday, the Yankees are not committing to someone else in the wild card game. They could manipulate things along the way so that Tanaka pitches only once in the last 10 days and gets lined up for a potential must-win, wild card matchup. But whatever they do, there’s not time for Tanaka to make both four more regular-season starts and a wild-card start. He’d have to start the wild card game on two days rest, and that just seems unthinkable.
• The other big rotation news of the day is that Ivan Nova will work as a reliever for the time being. That suggests the Yankees are going to keep Adam Warren in a five-man rotation. I would think Nova becomes a long-relief alternative to Bryan Mitchell, who’s struggled ever since being hit in the face by that line drive in August.
• Asked specifically about Tanaka pitching Wednesday’s game against the Blue Jays, Girardi was non-committal and said, “We’ll have to see how he feels.” That said, if the Yankees are really taking Nova out of the rotation, they’re going to have little choice but to pitch Tanaka on Wednesday. If not, they’d have to give that start to someone like Nova, Mitchell or Chris Capuano. Are they really going to do that against Toronto?
• Assuming the Yankees stay on turn, Warren, Luis Severino and Tanaka would be lined up to start in Toronto next week.
• In his past five starts, Nova went 1-4 with an 8.74 ERA. Opponents hit .330/.396/.590 against him. In his nine starts before that, Nova was 5-4 with a 3.57 ERA and opponents were hitting .240/.311/.383.
• Tonight will be only Dustin Ackley’s second big league game at second base since 2013. It was his primary position before the Mariners acquired Robinson Cano, and he played it a few times during this minor league rehab assignment, but he’s been mostly an outfielder lately.
• The Yankees announced that next Saturday’s game against the White Sox will start at 4:05 p.m. at Yankee Stadium. That had been a TBA start time. In my opinion, 4 o’clock is the worst possible start time, but no one seems to ask for my input on these matters.
Associated Press photos
In Ivan Nova’s situation, it’s hard to have a start like last night without raising at least a little bit of curiosity: was it because of Tommy John surgery? We hear often that pitchers coming back from Tommy John are prone to some inconsistency; that they might hit a few bumps in the road, especially in that first year back.
“I’m sure it’s going to happen,” Nova said. “A lot of guys before I came up here told me, you’re going to have some days (that) are going to feel good and some days that I don’t feel good. But this year has been great so far. Except with my arm fatigue in Texas, I’ve been having really good velocity. I feel like my curveball’s getting better each time out there. Sinker’s been getting better. Throwing some changeups lately. It’s just one of those days that you don’t have it.”
Really, starts like last night weren’t uncommon for Nova even before he had surgery. His career has been largely defined by his ability to put together extended stretches of near dominance mixed in with stretches of unreliability so pronounced that in his last healthy season he was actually optioned to Triple-A at one point.
So is he entering a stretch of surgery-induced inconsistency or did he just have one of those nights when he didn’t have it? Impossible to say. For whatever it’s worth, Nova says surgery had nothing to do with last night’s struggles.
“It has been a long process and all that,” Nova said. “But I don’t think (surgery) had to do with anything because you look at the great games that I’ve had and I’m still coming back from Tommy John, so you (don’t) blame and put it on the Tommy John. Just, I don’t have it (last night).”
Nova is on schedule to make one more start before Michael Pineda’s anticipated return from the disabled list. After that, the Yankees will have options, and it seems they’ll likely go to a six-man rotation (which is more manageable while rosters are expanded in the month of September). If Nova continues to struggle and everyone else stays healthy, the Yankees could — in theory — put him in the bullpen and go with a typical five-man rotation down the stretch.
But here’s another question: Even if Nova does stick in the rotation the rest of the season, isn’t he likely to fall out of a potential playoff rotation? It is perhaps getting ahead of ourselves a little bit, but in an ideal world, aren’t Masahiro Tanaka, Pineda, Luis Severino and Nathan Eovaldi the Yankees top four starters for a playoff run?
Associated Press photo
After dealing with some arm fatigue last night, Ivan Nova said he plans to throw his normal bullpen and make his next scheduled start. He’s dismissing yesterday’s issues as little more than a part of the process after Tommy John surgery.
“I’m not hurt or anything like that,” Nova said. “So there isn’t any reason to think that I’m not going to pitch. I already asked some guys that went through Tommy John and they said it’s normal, that at some point you’re going to feel something like it. I’m not worried about it.”
Last night, Joe Girardi acknowledged some short-term concern about Nova’s arm, but he said that concern has diminished now that Nova’s arrived with no additional problems today.
“Probably less (concern today),” Girardi said. “He woke up today and said it was pretty much normal, how he felt was normal after his start. We still have him scheduled to pitch on Sunday. We’ll have him do his bullpen and go from there. I feel OK about it.”
Nova said he immediately reached out to Francisco Liriano, who’s become a close friend of Nova’s. He also talked to Dellin Betances and Nick Goody about the recovery process. He said the fatigue was centered around his triceps, and initially it caused some concern because he’d never experienced it.
“I was worried a little bit,” he said. “But the trainer checked on me, and I asked a couple guys and they said it was normal. There’s not any reason to be worried about it now.”
• Girardi didn’t go into detail, but he said there were conversations to make sure everything is good between Mark Teixeira and Joe Espado following last night’s vented frustration. “The one thing that we want from our players is intensity,” Girardi said. “I think Joe Espada has done a tremendous job, coaching third, coaching our infield. As a player, there are times that I made incorrect reads as a base runner. As a manager sometimes or as a player I’ve said things that I wish I’d maybe stated a little bit different. Everything’s OK. We talked about it, we move on and we learn from it. Things are good.”
• How often do things like this happen in the course of a six-month season (plus spring training, plus potential playoffs, etc.)? “They happen all the time,” Girardi said. “Sometimes people see it more than others, but things happen. You put 40 grown men in a room for 190 straight days, things happen. There’s intensity. There’s emotion. I know as a player there’s been times that I’ve said things and wish, man, I probably could have done that different. But to me it’s all about your heart, where your heart really is. Tex displays a lot of intensity every day he plays, and we understand that.”
• Diego Moreno was brought up because he can give up to 65 pitches if necessary. The Yankees figure they can get about 50 pitches apiece from Chris Capuano and Adam Warren, but if one of those guys falls flat or the game goes extras, they would be in a real bind without an extra long guy. “If we wouldn’t have used Shreve two innings and used Willie (last night), maybe you do it a little bit different,” Girardi said. “But you had to win the game yesterday.”
• Goody was optioned back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He would have been available for only 30-35 pitches, Girardi said. Pretty sure Goody is the third Yankees player to be called up but not get a in game this season (I would still be on Goody getting in a game before the end of the season). Taylor Dugas and Joel De La Cruz were also called up without actually playing.
• Healthy days off for both Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran.
• Because of the extreme heat, the Yankees did not take batting practice today (they hit inside, but didn’t take regular batting practice on the field). They might not take BP tomorrow either. “Save their energy,” Girardi said. “We’re what, 98 games in? I think sometimes it helps them being off their feet, especially these long stretches.”
• Girardi’s reaction to hearing news of the Troy Tulowitzki trade: “It’s not something I expected because they had Reyes. Obviously he’s another guy that’s extremely dangerous, hits the ball out of the ballpark, middle of the order hitter. But we’ll worry about ourselves. Our guys are playing well, let’s continue to play well.”
Associated Press photos
First a reminder that we’re doing a chat today at noon. Stop by for a while and we’ll talk Rob Refsnyder’s demotion, CC Sabathia’s solid past two starts, and the Yankees’ approach to the trade deadline. It’s a way to kill some time before the Yankees begin what could be a pretty important three-game series against Baltimore.
The Orioles are four games behind the Yankees in the American League East, and they could be as dangerous as any team in the division if guys like Chris Tillman and J.J. Hardy rebound in the second half, and if the Orioles can find some more production from the outfield corners.
This is the Yankees’ first series against Baltimore since June 14, and these teams don’t play one another again until a pair of series in September.
“Any time you start playing teams in your division when the season’s winding down, all those games are big,” CC Sabathia said.
In the series opener and the series finale, the Yankees face the two lowest ERAs in the Orioles’ rotation. The Yankees have won each of their past four series, and just finished taking two of three against Seattle.
“Baltimore is a similar type of team,” Alex Rodriguez said. “They can it the ball out of the ballpark and they have good pitching.”
Here are the pitching matchups for this series.
RHP Nathan Eovaldi (9-2, 4.50)
LHP Wei-Yin Chen (4-5, 2.78)
7:05 p.m., WPIX and MLB Network
RHP Ivan Nova (1-3, 3.42)
RHP Kevin Gausman (1-1, 5.00)
7:05 p.m., YES Network and ESPN
RHP Masahiro Tanaka (6-3, 3.65)
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (7-5, 3.29)
1:05 p.m., YES Network and MLB Network
Associated Press photo
Fourteen months in the making, Ivan Nova’s return to the Yankees’ rotation has been a boost. Not so much because of the wins he’s provided, but because he’s provided a fresh arm to a rotation overloaded with health and workload concerns. The key for the Yankees, as Nova heads into today’s final start before the All-Star break, is to get consistency and dependability out of Nova through the second half.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Nova said. “I have to keep pitching. Every time I pitch, I don’t focus on the results as much as the way I feel. I think the All-Star break will be good for me and my body to take a little rest, and then I’ll go back to work.”
Nova has been something of an enigma ever since he solidified himself as a big league starter back in 2011. In two of his three healthy seasons, Nova’s finished with an ERA of 3.70 or better, but his career has been largely defined by inconsistency – long stretches of dominance and long stretches of disappointment. He’s done enough to stick around, just not enough to know what he’ll do from month to month.
His first three starts this season were more of the same. Nova returned from a long Tommy John surgery rehab to pitch 6.2 scoreless innings on June 24, then he allowed two runs in 5.1 innings on June 30. Last time out, though, Nova’s command was spotty through a four-run, three-walk performance on Sunday. He got through it with limited damage, but he clearly wasn’t sharp.
“If you look at how many starts like that I had before I got hurt, it was a lot,” Nova said. “I was up and down a lot of times. There were days that I felt really good, went out there and had no command of any of my pitches. Stuff happens. I don’t worry about what happened last time. I know that I can still pitch a good game.”
So do the Yankees, which is why they activated Nova and eventually kept him in the rotation ahead of Adam Warren, who’d been pitching well for the better part of two months. Warren had already topped his innings total from either of the past two seasons, and so the Yankees put him in the bullpen to protect his arm. They have also worked to limit the stress on Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia, each of whom is coming back from injury issues last season. Tanaka has already spent time on the disabled list this year, Pineda had a start skipped earlier in the season, and Sabathia had a start pushed back three days in an effort to provide extra rest.
If you’re looking for the bright side to surgery, Nova’s time off has actually left him rested, and he could pitch with no or few restrictions the rest of the way.
“I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He gets an extra day (this turn). Maybe that will help as you’re coming back and you’re starting to throw every fifth day.”
Every fifth day. That’s what the Yankees are banking on. That, and Nova’s ability to be a difference maker beyond tonight’s game in Boston.
“If I’m up here with the team, it’s because they feel — and I feel — that I can contribute to this team,” Nova said. “Nobody mentions Tommy John when I pitch a good game, so why do you have to mention it when I pitch a bad game? You can’t judge any bad start I have and say it’s because of the surgery. I don’t believe in that. I’m pitching and I feel good.”
Associated Press photos
Carlos Beltran felt some tightness in his ribcage last night. He played through it then, and played through it again tonight until feeling “a little pinch” when he fouled off a pitch in the fifth inning. Now Beltran’s status is up in the air.
“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and we’ll make a decision on what we’re going to do,” Joe Girardi said. “He says it probably wouldn’t bother him swinging left-handed; we’ll just have to see how he feels tomorrow.”
The Yankees do face a right-handed pitcher tomorrow, so that might help Beltran stay in the lineup. Girardi said it’s doubtful the Yankees could get a replacement here before the game anyway, so either Beltran can play or the Yankees will play with a two-man bench. Beltran said he’s hopeful it’s not a disabled list situation.
“I hope not, no,” he said. “The way I feel right now, I don’t think so. But tomorrow will be the day where, once I go to the cage, once I test it out, then I will know where I am.”
Beltran said he first felt some tightness yesterday. Nothing particularly unusual, he said, so he played through it. He woke up feeling alright the morning, but the tightness returned when he started hitting the cage. Again, nothing he hadn’t played through before, so he stayed in the lineup. He was still playable until that foul ball. Even then, he stayed in to finish the at-bat before Girardi pulled him.
“If I worry about how tight I feel, then you don’t play,” Beltran said. “As a ballplayer, every day you feel something. I decided to play through it, and I was fine.”
Beltran said he was examined by the Angels’ doctor, who only said that it’s a ribcage/oblique issue. Beltran’s not expecting any tests.
“Any time a player leaves a game, you’re concerned,” Girardi said. “We’ll just have to see how he feels tomorrow.”
• Wouldn’t know it these past three games, but the Yankees actually have a pretty productive lineup. They’ve scored the second-most runs in the Majors, and they have the game’s highest team OPS for the month of June. They’ve actually hit pretty well, but they’ve now gone three straight games with only one run. “We just didn’t do much offensively tonight,” Girardi said. “It’s hard to figure out.”
• Last night the Yankees really did seem to hit into some bad luck — hit a lot of balls hard with nothing to show for it — and there might have been some of that tonight, but even Girardi wasn’t ready to completely use that as an excuse. “We’ve had some unlucky things happen to us here,” Girardi said. “The balls Chris (Young) hit yesterday, they’ve made some good plays. We need to score some runs, that’s the bottom line. Whether tough things happen to you or not, you need to score runs to win.”
• Only two hits for the Yankees. The solo homer by Mark Teixeira and yet another hit for Brett Gardner, who has a .486 batting average during an eight-game hitting streak. “Basically the only guy getting on base is just Gardner,” Beltran said. “And we haven’t been able to rally off of him. It’s tough, but at the end of the day, we have to continue to fight.”
• Teixeira is tied for third in the American League with 19 home runs. This was his first homer in 42 at-bats, snapping his longest homerless streak of the season. He entered the game averaging one home run every 13.7 at-bats. He leads the American League with 54 RBI.
• One run through seven innings for rookie Angels starter Andrew Heaney (Yankees kind of oddly had a bunch of lefties in the lineup against him). “He threw a good ballgame against Houston and he threw a good game against us,” Girardi said. “He’s got some angle to him where it looks like he’s going to be able to get in on right-handers and be somewhat difficult on left-handers with the sweeping breaking ball. Only time will tell as you go around the league a couple times and people see, but the young man has a good arm and is off to a good start.”
• Another strong start by Ivan Nova who pitched into the sixth inning and allowed his only runs on back-to-back homers by Albert Pujols and Erick Aybar. “Physically, I feel good,” Nova said. “Even that I gave up two runs, for me it doesn’t feel like a good outing because I want to win the game for the team. Like I said, it’s good that I’m feeling good.”
• Nova questioned his decision to challenge Pujols. “I think first pitch fastball right in the middle to Pujols was a little bit up,” Nova said. “I shouldn’t throw that pitch.”
• Adam Warren came out of the bullpen for the first time this season and pitched 2.2 scoreless innings to give the Yankees a chance. “Once I kind of got settled in, I just felt like last year, back where I was last year,” he said. “I felt like I got more comfortable as I went.”
• Getting loose quickly was something Warren hadn’t done in a while. He said he focuses on getting his fastball locked in, and once he has that, he feels good to go. Took him a few pitches to do that in the bullpen, but he was loose and ready by the time he was called into the game. “The first couple of throws down in the bullpen, trying to get hot quick was a little tough,” he said. “But once that adrenaline kicked in it was easy.”
• Let’s give the final word to Alex Rodriguez. “I think (the key) is just maintain our aggressiveness,” he said. “For the most part, over the last two weeks, we’ve swung the bats well, and I’m confident we can continue to do that. What I’m most encouraged about is tonight we saw a preview of what that bullpen is going to be like for us the rest of the year with Nova (in the rotation) and Warren (in the pen), and those guys on the backside — I’m really optimistic about the rest of the year.”
Associated Press photos
Ivan Nova walked off the mound to a standing ovation. He pulled the Yankees cap off his head and waved it to the Yankee Stadium crowd. He sat in the dugout to see the final out of the inning, and he settled into the clubhouse to talk about the 14 months that took him from Tommy John surgery back to the big leagues.
Chase Whitley watched all of it.
Standing at his own locker just a few feet from Nova’s after last night’s game, Whitley held two fingers an inch and a half apart to show what it meant to see Nova return with a gem.
“Say I’m this far from touching my shoulder easily,” Whitley said. “And I’m thinking, what’s the big deal (if I try to force it)? Well, 14 months ago, he was in the same spot. Now he’s in there. That sort of stuff’s encouraging.”
Last April, it was Nova who threw a pitch in Tampa Bay and knew something wasn’t right. Days later he was having Tommy John surgery to repair the torn ligament in his elbow. Last month, it was Whitley, also in Tampa Bay, also throwing pitches knowing something wasn’t right, also just days away from Tommy John surgery.
Nova’s reached the finished line. Whitley’s a little more than a month into the process.
“I couldn’t pick up my kid,” Whitley said. “I’m just now being able to pick him up pain-free. You think about that, much less throw a baseball. We’re talking about an injury, even though it’s popular now, there’s no guarantee you’re coming back. To see a guy like that, the work he put in, come back. It’s encouraging.”
The Tommy John success rate is high, and the Yankees’ clubhouse is filled with players who have been through it, from Nova to Chris Capuano to Dellin Betances.
“I see a lot of guys coming back, but who knows?” Nova said. “You never know if you’re going to come back, and be able to go through six innings and get into the seventh inning, it’s amazing.”
What was amazing for Nova was reassuring for Whitley; a reminder of what’s waiting at the end of a very long tunnel.
“I’m not concerned with when I start throwing again,” Whitley said. “I’m concerned with trying to touch my shoulder right now. It’s the little goals. It’s not trying to worry about throwing again, because I can’t throw right now. I’m not trying to get ready. What is throwing two days early going to help me? It’s about the process. If I’m back a week earlier or a week late, what’s the difference?”
The Yankees didn’t rush Nova’s recovery. Even though every step of his recovery was positive, the Yankees moved him slowly through spring training and gave him one extra rehab start at the end. Recovery was methodical, and it was calculated, and that’s what lies ahead for Whitley. For one night, though, Nova provided a glimpse of the end result.
“It was so encouraging because you know the hard work that he put in,” Whitley said. “I know the hard work that I’m putting in right now. To see him, the success he had (on Wednesday), the execution he had. He hadn’t pitched in 14 months, and to see him go out there and it looked like he just made a start two days ago. It was awesome.”
Associated Press photos