For Nova, no more excuses

The Yankees don't want to send Ivan Nova back to Triple-A -- yet again -- to set him straight. Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

NEW YORK -- Ivan Nova has not earned the benefit of the doubt. So while Nova and the Yankees can say they want to simply throw these first two starts out as quickly as a couple of 90-plus mph fastballs, they can't do it.

Not when Nova has yet to put together a full season of consistent success.

This is the year Nova could graduate to the top-half of the Yankees' rotation. But after a strong spring training, he left his curveball and slider in Tampa.

In his first start against the Astros, he found a way to wiggle 5 2/3 innings of two-run baseball with just a fastball and nothing else. On Tuesday, he wasn't so lucky in the Yankees' 14-5 loss. He lasted just 3 2/3 innings, allowing seven earned runs on 10 hits.

"Two things -- the sinker didn't have a lot of sink to it and was up in the zone," Joe Girardi said. "And his curveball wasn't very sharp. That's not a very good combination for him, seeing those are his bread-and-butter pitches. He wasn't sharp today."

Still, the manager offered Nova an alibi.

Ivan Nova

Ivan Nova

#47 SP
New York Yankees

2014 STATS

  • GM2
  • W1

  • L1

  • BB5

  • K4

  • ERA8.68

"I wouldn't make too much of two starts," Girardi said. "I know it is glaring in the beginning, but I always say this: if it is in the middle of the year, you probably don't say too much about it."

If it is CC Sabathia in his prime, then, fine, he starts with two rusty outings and you feel as if he will come back strong.

Nova? He has ended up at Scranton -- so Triple-A pitching coach Scott Aldred and others could try to fix him -- in three of the past four years.

Nova, 27, could turn it around quickly because he has the ability. He just hasn't harnessed it for a full season.

Dating back to last year, when he finished the season pitching better than any of the Yankees' starters, Nova had made 24 straight starts in which he allowed four runs or fewer. It was the third-longest streak in the majors behind Jose Fernandez (27 starts) and Ubaldo Jimenez (25 starts). Still, Nova needed a tuneup in the minors in 2013 to rev up his engines.

"If he wants to go to the next level as a pitcher, it is putting two halves together that are really good," said Girardi.

On Tuesday, the first inning could have been different if Derek Jeter had more range. The Yankees will honor Jeter's place in franchise history and his legendary accomplishments all season, but the nearly 40-year-old shortstop doesn't move around as well as he once did. Jeter probably should have gotten to a potential double play ball hit by the second batter of the game. Delmon Young's grounder to the left side of second base was a ball other shortstops likely grab and turn into two outs.

"He dove," Giradi said. "He did everything he could to make the play. It seemed to get through the infield fairly quickly. He did everything he could."

When Nova was asked if he thought it should have been a double play ball, he demurred.

"You never know," Nova said. "Like I said, I feel I threw a couple of good pitches. A lot of things happen back there in the game. That's part of it. Of course, you want to get your double plays and get your outs quick. It didn't work that way."

After a sac fly, Nova gave up a two-run homer to Adam Jones. The Yankees were down three before they even came to bat.

To turn into a pro's pro, like Hiroki Kuroda, this was when Nova needed to settle down instead of unravel. He needed to put the first inning behind him and pitch well; especially with the Yankees' depleted bullpen.

He didn't do it Tuesday, but the Yankees will need him to do it moving forward. Sabathia is not going to be the ace he once was, while Kuroda still must show that 2013's late fade was just a blip. Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda -- who make their Bronx debuts Wednesday and Thursday, respectively -- are exciting, but still young.

This leaves Nova needing to put together a full year, earning himself the benefit of the doubt.

In other words, no excuses.