Joe Girardi ticked off the laundry list of things Ivan Nova did well today: "His fastball was outstanding. His curveball was really good. His location was excellent. He got a lot of first pitch strikes.''
"And,'' the manager continued, "he got us into the seventh inning.''
That may have been the most important of all. Just as the Yankees bullpen, especially in middle relief, is showing signs of fraying, the starting pitching seems to be firming up.
New York Yankees
In his first start since Aug. 21, a hiatus that included a stay on the DL with an inflamed rotator cuff, Nova gave the Yankees six-plus solid innings, allowing four hits, walking one and striking out eight, and being charged with two runs, one of which scored because Joba Chamberlain surrendered an RBI single in the seventh.
Most encouraging of all for the Yankees, Nova's fastball hit 96 mph at several points in the game, easing any concerns that his shoulder injury was anything more serious than simple inflammation.
"That day when they put me on the DL it was really bad, and I felt it even more once I cooled down a little bit,'' he said. "I was waiting for this moment to be back on the mound and thank God we did a good job today. I was focused.''
And pumped. When Girardi came to get him after Jeff Keppinger's single leading off the seventh, Nova's face betrayed his disappointment, and as he left the mound to a standing ovation, he pounded his chest with his left hand and tipped his cap to the crowd with his right.
"It was a good moment,'' Nova said of the crowd's response. "I can’t remember the last time I heard that.''
But, he added, "I wanted to keep pitching. It felt so good to be back on the mound. All I wanted to do was keep pitching.''
He knew, however, that he was on an 80-pitch limit and Girardi had already allowed him to go five pitches over. But he was really puzzled when the manager came out to visit him after Even Longoria's solo home run with two out in the sixth.
"I don't know why he came out,'' Nova said. "I was good to go. I was thinking, 'He's gonna take me out now? I don't see nobody warming in the bullpen.' But he just asked me if I was OK.''
Nova was better than OK, and his return to the rotation means that for the first time since June, when they went a league-best 20-7, the Yankees have a surplus of healthy and effective starting pitchers.
"It was great, the fact that he was able to bounce back after not being in action for awhile,'' said Curtis Granderson, whose two-run homer in the second inning (No. 39) got the Yankees on the board. "To come in, take this offense and kind of put them at bay, stay in the ballgame as long as he did, even though he hadn’t pitched in awhile, you could kinda see where his endurance was, where his velocity was, the deception on his pitches. He did an excellent job in a big game for us.''