- Kieran Darcy, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees’ pitching staff has been the strength of the team this season.
It may be even stronger than we thought.
New York Yankees
Nova didn't even deserve the one run charged against him. Alcides Escobar scored it after drawing a two-out walk in the top of the eighth. With the Yankees up 8-0, they allowed Escobar to advance to second on defensive indifference. Escobar then scored on Eric Hosmer's double, the lone blemish on Nova's night.
"Probably could have left him out there for the ninth," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "I just decided that he did his job, and did a very good job."
Prior to the eighth, Nova shut down Kansas City, giving up just four other hits -- back-to-back two-out singles in the first, and back-to-back two-out singles in the fifth. He then walked Alex Gordon in the fifth, loading the bases, but induced Escobar to fly out to left field, ending the threat.
Nova needed just 105 pitches to get through eight innings, with six strikeouts and two walks. His fastball was clocked at 95 mph consistently, and his curve was practically unhittable.
"His curveball was probably the best we’ve seen all year," said Royals manager Ned Yost.
Yankees catcher Chris Stewart said Nova had everything working Wednesday. "As long as he’s throwing in the zone, his 93 to 95 [fastball] with movement is pretty darn good," Stewart said. "When he’s doing that and mixing in his other stuff -- his changeup's come around, and his curveball's one of the best. When he’s got those three pitches working, he’s really tough to hit."
Nova has bounced back from the triceps injury that put him on the disabled list in late April, and the Yankees' decision to demote him to Triple-A in late May. In four starts since returning to the big leagues on June 23, Nova is 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA. In 29 1/3 innings, he has 28 strikeouts and just six walks.
Nova said he is pitching with a lot of confidence right now. "I don’t remember the last time that I felt the way I feel," he said. "I think that’s one of the reasons I’m pitching so well."
Said Stewart: "I think it’s more of a focus. And that focus allows him to focus on each pitch and not think too far ahead or think too far behind. He’s able to zero in on what he needs to do to execute that pitch, and I think that’s allowed him to have the success that he’s having."
Nova's currently filling in for David Phelps, who said before Wednesday's game that his injured forearm is feeling much better. Phelps should be ready to return right after the All-Star break.
But Nova is simply pitching too well right now to take out of the mix.
It's too early for Girardi to determine his post-break rotation, but he certainly likes having options. "It’s a long season, it’s a grind, and you get in these long stretches, and having extra starters is a good problem to have," Girardi said.
Phelps is 6-5 on the year, with a 5.01 ERA. Nova is 4-2, with a 3.63 -- and don't forget, two seasons ago he was 16-4 with a 3.70 in 27 starts.
Nova looked like that pitcher again Wednesday night. A pitcher who, for the time being anyway, deserves to get the ball every fifth day.