Ivan Nova not likely for postseason start

Yankee fans who were hoping that rookie right-hander Ivan Nova would replace A.J. Burnett in the starting rotation for the playoffs are likely to be disappointed. Yankee manager Joe Girardi said before Wednesday's game with the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium that while it was likely he would use four starters in the playoffs, it is not likely that Nova would be one of them.

"I've started to think about it a little bit,'' Girardi said, "I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but I'm probably leaning towards going with a four-man rotation.''

Asked if Nova, who has pitched well since being added to the starting rotation on Aug. 23 in Toronto, would be one of the starters, Girardi said, "I'm not going to make a decision today. But he has the least amount of experience and I'll leave it at that."

The Yankees, who opened a 2½ game lead in the AL East over the Rays with their 83rd win Tuesday night, have a magic number of three to clinch a playoff berth. With no extra off-days built into the American League playoff schedule this year, the Yankees will not be able to get by with three starting pitchers, as they did last year.

CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes are considered locks for three of the starting spots. Burnett, who has struggled through two winless months, June and August, in what has been a maddeningly erratic season, seemed a likely candidate to be replaced when Nova turned in impressive starts against the Blue Jays and White Sox in August. However, lately Nova has shown difficulty pitching beyond the fifth inning of games and getting through a big-league lineup the second or third time through.

Nova went two outs into the sixth inning against the Rays Monday night, but wound up with a no-decision.

"It just seemed like he lost the zone a little bit,'' Girardi said. "I think of Nova as a starter, he's got starter stuff. But I think there's a learning process up here, and you're going to go through some bumps until you learn how to pitch in games that are tight.''

Asked if he might use Nova as a long man out of the pen in the postseason, Girardi said, "Right now we have him penciled in as a starter. Is it something we might possibly look at? Yes.''

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com.