Nova: A question of confidence?

Ivan Nova threw 22 strikes in two solid innings against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday. Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA, Fla. -- The word popped out of Chris Stewart's mouth three times in a two-minute interview in regards to Ivan Nova: Confidence.

As in, "He was confident out there today." And, "It's tough to repeat your delivery if you're not fully confident in it." And, "Hopefully, he’s the guy we saw two years ago, going out there with confidence every single day and not afraid of throwing strikes and daring people to try to hit them.''

So even though Nova looked good in his two-inning, 27-pitch stint against the Tigers today, the question is along way from settled. Does Nova believe strongly enough in his own stuff to be a consistently good big-league pitcher?

Nova threw 22 strikes, walked no one, struck out Kevin Russo on a beautiful curve and allowed just an infield single in his two innings, and appeared in command. But it hardly wipes out the memory of the second half of last season, when he had trouble getting past the 5th inning and saw his ERA sit above 5.00 for most of the year. The kid who seemingly had cemented his future with a 16-4 season in 2011 was left off the playoff roster in 2012.

Like Phil Hughes a year ago, he comes to this camp having to battle for a roster spot, locked into a battle with David Phelps for the No. 5 starter's job. Phelps has also looked good so far this year, throwing five scoreless innings in two outings, and no one has questioned his confidence.

"I’m concentrating on attacking the strike zone and I did it today," Nova said. "(Last year) I wasn’t attacking the hitter like I did today."

No one, not even his manager, seems to be able to explain why.

“That’s such a hard thing to really measure," Joe Girardi said. "Is it in his stuff? Is it in the struggles? Is he confident in himself? Since we’re not inside his mind, that’s kind of hard to tell. When he’s consistent, he’s dynamite, he wins and he pitches extremely well. For me, he need to be confident in his stuff and he needs to be confident in his abilities to really make it work.”

Stewart thought a mechanical adjustment had something to do with Nova's effectiveness.

"It was just finding the right arm slot," Stewart said. "He had such a long arm motion last year, its tough to repeat it if you’re not fully confident in it. This year he’s a lot shorter so he can repeat it a lot easier and we saw the results today."

QUESTION: Do you believe in Ivan Nova? Or do you need to see more to be convinced?