NEW YORK -- Ivan Nova pitched arguably his best game of the season on Saturday.
The New York Yankees still lost, again.
Nova went seven innings, giving up just one run on six hits, with eight strikeouts. But the Yanks mustered just two hits in nine innings off Tampa Bay Rays rookie Chris Archer, resulting in a demoralizing 1-0 loss in the Bronx.
"Sometimes when you pitch good, it's hard to be charged with a loss," Nova said. "It doesn't feel great, but at the end I'm still happy with the way I pitched."
Nova's first pitch of the game was lined into center field by Desmond Jennings for a single, an ominous start. But Nova worked around two singles in the opening frame.
He got in trouble again in the fourth inning, after a leadoff double by Wil Myers and a walk by James Loney. But Nova struck out the side from there to end the threat -- each K coming via his curveball.
"I was trying just to get ahead [in the count] first, and then use my best pitch to strike them out," Nova said. "And that's what I did."
Nova's fastball reached as high as 96 mph on the radar gun. Manager Joe Girardi and catcher Chris Stewart said everything was working.
"To me it's his fastball command, because his curveball has seemed to be there for the most part. It's been really effective," Girardi said. "And he threw some good changeups today, too."
"He's obviously gotten confidence again," Stewart said. "That's the biggest thing -- when you go out there with confidence you trust your stuff, and he's got the ability to get anybody out in any situation."
The Rays' lone run came in the sixth inning, and even that was a little fluky. Loney hit a one-out bloop single into center field, Matt Joyce walked and Kelly Johnson drove the run home with another single, on a pitch Nova and Stewart were happy with.
"Yeah, two-seamer down and away, hit it off the end of the bat, and it just fell in there," Stewart said. "It's kind of the way our breaks have been going right now."
Since returning to the Yankees on June 23, after a triceps injury and a stint in the minor leagues, Nova has pitched six times (five starts). In 43 1/3 innings, he has allowed just 12 earned runs, for an ERA of 2.49.
However, Nova's record is just 2-3 during that span.
In fact, this was the second consecutive start in which Nova got zero run support. And whether he admits it or not, it's difficult to pitch when your offense gives you little or no margin for error.
"You gotta stay trying to keep your team close, and hoping that they're gonna score a run at some point," Nova said. "That's the only thing that I can do, try to keep my team in the game."
He certainly did that Saturday, but had nothing but a loss to show for it.