Print and Go Back ESPN.com: ESPNNewYork [Print without images]

Friday, April 15, 2011
Updated: April 16, 10:23 AM ET
The good, the bad of being without Lee

By Ian Begley
Special to ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Both the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers came up short in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes over the winter.

So which team is better-equipped to deal with life without Lee?

If the first 12 games of 2011 are any indication, it definitely isn't the Yankees.

Just look at what happened on Friday night: Matt Harrison gave the Rangers eight strong innings in their 5-3 win in the Bronx. Bombers starter Ivan Nova, meanwhile, couldn't get out the fifth.

Nova allowed five runs in 4 1/3 innings and walked a career-high five in his second straight frustrating outing. The second-year right-hander's control issues put the Yankees in a 5-1 hole that they couldn't crawl out of.

Ivan Nova
Ivan Nova couldn't get out of the fifth for the second straight start.

"You're going to have a bad start like that when you can't throw strikes," said Nova, who is 1-1 with a 7.36 ERA.

Friday night was just a snapshot in a 162-game season, but it showed you the stark difference between the Yankees' and Rangers' pitching staffs. Nova's no-show came on the same day that the Yankees placed Phil Hughes and his floundering fastball on the 15-day disabled list. The team said Hughes has a "dead arm" issue. He's going to play long toss under the tutelage of pitching coach Larry Rothschild to try to regain arm strength.

But the Yankees don't want to see him back on the mound without a fastball that's at least in the low 90s. And they don't know when that will happen.

In the meantime, Bartolo Colon will take Hughes' place in the rotation, adding to the uncertainty surrounding the Yankees' staff.

Nova contributed to that feeling of doubt with an awful strike-to-ball ratio (45-41) on Friday.

His lack of command got the best of him in the fifth when he walked Mitch Moreland and hit Julio Borbon to open the inning. Nova then threw a 45-foot fastball that Russell Martin couldn't handle, allowing Moreland and Borbon to advance. Moreland scored on an Ian Kinsler groundout.

Two batters later, Nova allowed an RBI single to Michael Young. He was yanked after that and the Yankees' bullpen was left to pitch the final 4 2/3.

"He didn't throw strikes," Joe Girardi said. "He had some four-pitch walks, quick walks, and that's unusual for him."

In addition to Nova's command, Girardi was concerned about the team's reliance on the bullpen through the first two weeks of the season. Hughes couldn't make it out of the fifth inning in each of his three starts. Nova has gone just 4 1/3 innings in each of his past two.

"You have to get some distance out of your starters or you're going to wear your bullpen out," Girardi said.

Outside of CC Sabathia, which Yankees starter can be counted on to consistently eat innings? A.J. Burnett has been solid through three starts, but his track record suggests that will change once the calendar hits May. Hughes is gone for who knows how long and Nova can't locate his fastball.

Journeyman Freddy Garcia gets his first start of the season on Saturday. Depending on how Garcia fares, you could be staring at the first Yankees pitching crisis of 2010 by Sunday night.

On the other side of the diamond, the Rangers' staff has thrived in life after Lee. Rangers starters entered the series in the Bronx sporting a MLB-leading 2.45 ERA. (The staff as a whole leads the majors with a 2.50 ERA).

On Saturday, the Rangers will send Derek Holland (2-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound against Garcia. On Sunday, it's Alexi Ogando (2-0, 0.00) against Sabathia (0-1, 1.45 ERA).

So far, the Rangers' staff seems fine without Lee. The same can't be said for the Yankees.

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.