Ivan Nova has a feel for his slider

May, 2, 2012
5/02/12
12:58
PM ET
(The New York Yankees host the Baltimore Orioles, Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.)

Ivan Nova has won 15 straight decisions, one shy of the franchise record held by Roger Clemens. Nova is 3-0 against the Orioles, with all three wins coming during this streak.

This season, Nova’s tendency has been to feel out his slider and curveball after a couple innings and then pick one to use predominantly. He’s relied heavily on the slider in only one start even though it’s been his most effective pitch.

Batters are missing on 43 percent of swings at Nova’s slider and hitting just .118 on at-bats ending on a slider. On all other pitches, they're hitting .386.

Nova has pitched into the sixth inning in all four starts and has been supported by a bullpen that is tied with the Texas Rangers for the second-best bullpen ERA in the American League. (In Nova's four starts, the Yankees' bullpen has allowed one earned run in 11⅔ innings.)

The AL team with the best bullpen ERA is the Orioles at 1.76. Baltimore started the day one game back of the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the AL East – thanks in large part to its pitching. After having the worst team ERA in the AL in four of the last 11 seasons, Baltimore's 2.94 team ERA ranks second behind the Rangers in the Senior Circuit.

Baltimore’s bullpen has stranded 85.6 percent of base runners inherited – only the Yankees in the American League have stranded a higher percentage (86.9 percent). Baltimore’s relievers have allowed just four home runs, thanks in part to a league-best 52 percent groundball rate.

They also have four pitchers who have come out of the bullpen, thrown more than eight innings and not allowed an earned run. Luis Ayala, Matt Lindstrom and Jim Johnson have combined for 30⅓ scoreless innings, and Darren O’Day has allowed just one earned run in 12⅔ innings.

The Orioles have had to rely on pitching the first month of the season because the offense has been average: sixth in the league in batting average, tied for sixth in runs and 11th in on-base percentage. One reason the Orioles' on-base percentage is so low is because they strike out at the second-highest rate in the AL and walk at the second-lowest rate.

Baltimore has been able to overcome these deficits by hitting for a lot of power. The Orioles' 32 home runs are third in the AL behind the Yankees (38) and Rangers (36).

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