Commentary

Colon, Nova big winners in drive for five

With Yankees on verge of reducing rotation, Sunday's starters added to their résumés

Updated: August 29, 2011, 3:26 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

BALTIMORE -- To all the reasons that have already been accumulated to support the reduction of the Yankees' starting rotation by one Allan James Burnett, add two more: Bartolo Colon and Ivan Nova.

Both pitched gems Sunday, Colon in the afternoon and Nova at night, and even if only one of them -- Nova -- came away with a win, both came away big winners in the drive for five.

Five starters, that is. The rotation has been overcrowded ever since Phil Hughes came off the disabled list, with six men being jammed into five slots, and if Joe Girardi is to be believed, by the end of the week that logjam is to be eliminated.

Ivan Nova
AP Photo/Nick WassRookie Ivan Nova won the nightcap, his 14th victory of the season.

At the start of the long day -- two games, 18 innings and nearly 5½ hours of baseball spread over 12 hours at the ballpark -- Girardi acknowledged that after Wednesday, when Burnett is next scheduled to start against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, the unwieldy six-pack of pitchers would be reduced to a more manageable five.

He also insisted that no one was pitching for a job this week, that his decision would not be based on a single performance but on a season-long body of work.

If that is true, then both Colon and Nova added to already formidable 2011 résumés Sunday, and nothing Burnett can do Wednesday short of throwing a perfect game at the Red Sox -- a prospect about as likely as catching Colon at a Pilates class -- can sufficiently clean up the mess he has already made of his season.

Colon pitched through tough luck, throwing 7 2/3 innings of two-run ball but coming away only with his ninth loss of the year, and his third in a row, when his team failed to get a runner past first base against Zach Britton and two Orioles relievers.

The 2-0 loss in the first game was the Yankees' second in a row to the lowly Orioles and the fifth in their past seven games, dropping them 2é games behind the idle Red Sox in the AL East, their largest deficit ion a month.

But they bounced back in the nightcap, behind a display of power by Curtis (I'm Not a Home Run Hitter) Granderson, who blasted two more to wrest the major league lead away from Toronto's Jose Bautista with 38, and with back-to-back-to-back bombs by Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Andruw Jones in the sixth inning.

The long ball provided all the Yankees' scoring in their 8-3 second-game victory, but the win was really made possible by Nova, who shook off a rocky start to earn his 14th win of the season, tying the most ever by a Yankees rookie and giving him the most wins by any rookie pitcher this season.

The doubleheader split was accomplished without the services of the two biggest names on the roster, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, both of whom sat out with injuries, but between the raking of Granderson & Co. and the pitching of Nova, they were hardly missed.

Besides, with occasional lapses like the one that occurred in the first game -- it was the fifth time the Yankees have been shut out this season -- the Yankees have lived up to their "Bronx Bombers" soubriquet for most of the season.

Hitting has rarely been the problem, nor is it likely to be much of a concern as they move through September and into the postseason.

But the Yankees, like most teams, will go only as far as their pitching takes them, and on Sunday, they got another look at two pitchers who are capable of taking them very far indeed.

Colon -- after a two-game stretch in which he appeared to be fading as his innings count climbed to totals it has not seen since 2008 -- pitched like the find he was in the first half of the season, freezing hitters with the movement on his two fastballs and still hitting 95 mph on the gun even with his last pitch of the game, No. 103, delivered with one out in the eighth.

But as good as Colon was, Nova was better, especially after he righted himself with a trip the video room after the third inning, by which point he had been slapped for two runs on five hits, all of them hard.

"I saw what I was doing wrong and I fixed it," Nova said. "That's the big adjustment I made."

In truth, Nova's ragged start had more to do with the interruption of his routine by Hurricane Irene, which caused him to cancel his daily long-toss session Saturday, resulting in a loss of arm speed on his delivery in the first three innings.

And the big adjustment, truth be told, was actually made July 2, when he was sent down to Triple-A Scranton to make room on the roster for Hughes despite having beaten the Mets the previous day for his eighth win of the season.

Instead of getting discouraged, Nova went down and came back -- with the same tenacious attitude he had had before, but with an improved slider.

"I don't even think about that anymore," he said. "I don't pay too much attention to individual goals. I think I'm a big part of this team and if we win the game, that's all that matters."

Nova may not think about it, but you should. Despite his month-long exile to Pennsylvania, Nova at 14-4 is now creeping up on the undisputed staff ace, CC Sabathia, who is 17-7. Even more incredibly, without that temporary demotion, which cost him arguably five starts, Nova might well be in a position to be a 20-game winner in his first full season as a starter.

"I guess I had the possibility to do it," he said. "But I don't worry too much about it, because you never know what's going to happen. Look at the game Bartolo pitched today, and we didn't score any runs. So all I worry about is doing my part of the job. That is the way I think."

The way Nova thinks is reflected in the way he pitches, confidently and without affection, regardless of what happens on the field behind him. In that way, he's the anti-A.J. Despite their close friendship in the clubhouse, two men could hardly be more different in temperament, and two pitchers could hardly be more different on the mound.

Due to the efforts of Nova and Colon, what could have been a disastrous day for the Yankees turned out better than OK. In 18 innings, Joe Girardi needed to use only 2 1/3 innings of bullpen, and if not for the early-morning power outage -- caused not by Irene but by Britton -- they might well have left Camden with a sweep.

Now, they come to the park Monday afternoon with a chance not only to split the series, but to go into their latest showdown at Fenway just one game out of first place.

"After losing some games this week I thought we bounced back pretty well tonight," Girardi said. "I think this was a big win for us."

They may have lost one of the games, but they rediscovered two compelling reasons why, by the end of the week, their starting rotation will be not only smaller, but better.

•••

Of all the incredible stats Granderson has compiled this season -- 38 home runs, a league-leading 107 RBIs, 121 runs scored, 68 extra-base hits and 10 triples -- the most incredible might be this: Granderson, who carried the rap of being unable to hit left-handed pitching with him from Detroit, leads the league in home runs against lefties, with 15. … The last time the Yankees hit three consecutive homers was May 20, 2009, against the same Orioles, and by two of the same players, Cano and Swisher. The third was Melky Cabrera, now a Kansas City Royal. … Freddy Garcia (10-7, 3.16) makes his first start since Aug. 7 in Monday's finale, facing RHP Alfredo Simon (4-6, 4.30), first pitch at 7:05 p.m.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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