Commentary

It has to be Nova at No. 2

With playoffs looming, Yanks rookie has solidified second spot in Bombers' rotation

Updated: September 21, 2011, 9:45 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The Tampa Bay Rays had the bases loaded in the seventh with no outs. Rookie Ivan Nova had them right where he wanted them.

All night, the Rays had put runners on. All night, Nova jogged off the mound before any of them touched home. So in the seventh, protecting a five-run lead, Desmond Jennings flew out meekly to left and B.J. Upton grounded into a 5-4-3 double play.

Nova, as cool as they come at 24, was out of the jam and into the New York Yankees' ALDS rotation. He fired 7 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing six hits in the Yankees' 5-0 defeat of the Rays.

If the Yankees win either of their games against Tampa on Wednesday, they are in the playoffs as at least the wild card. If the Yankees sweep their day-nighter and Boston's collapse continues, the division could be the Yankees by Wednesday night.

Ivan Nova
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesIvan Nova is in the mix for AL rookie of the year honors this season.

When they get there, is there even an argument against Nova (16-4, 3.62 ERA) starting ALDS Game No. 2?

After CC Sabathia, Yankee manager Joe Girardi has one choice for Andy Pettitte's old spot -- it has to be Nova.

Yes, he is a rookie, but he is a rookie that never loses. The last time he lost a game Derek Jeter had 2,086 career hits. Mariano Rivera owned 573 saves. The date was June 3.

Nova is undefeated in his past 15 starts. This is the longest streak by a rookie in more 25 years, according to Elias. No other Yankees rookie has had such a streak since Atley Donald in 1939 and Russ Ford in 1910.

What makes Nova look playoff tough is how he handles the pressure that comes with men on base. He takes a deep breath and melts bats.

"Early on he used to get flustered a little bit, it seemed like," Derek Jeter said. "Now, with guys on, it doesn't seem to bother him at all." Nova's mentor may be A.J. Burnett, but he seems to have a little Freddy Garcia in him -- when Garcia is going good -- meaning that when there are men on base Nova gets a little better. The Rays were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position on Tuesday.

Girardi won't discuss the playoff rotation until the Yankees get there. Once they do, don't bet on him being too forthright. But Girardi admits that Nova doesn't have any trouble with pressure.

"He's shown it," Girardi said. "Last year, sometimes, innings got away from him. He has done a much better job of that this year. He has figured out how to get out of innings. When he hasn't had his best stuff he has figured out how to get outs and that's just maturation and we need him to continue to grow up for us."

If Nova picks up one more win, he will tie Stan Bahnsen for the Yankees' all-time mark for wins as a rookie. In 1968, Bahnsen, the rookie of the year, went 17-12 with a 2.05 ERA.

He ended up going 37-39 with a 3.49 ERA his next three Yankees seasons before unspectacularly bouncing around the majors into the early '80s. (Bahnsen did win 21 games in 1972 with the White Sox.)

If Nova were to get to 17, he would join only two others rookies since 2000 to reach that figure. They are pretty good names that are headed to a postseason ballpark near you. In 2001, CC Sabathia won 17, while in 2006, the Tigers' Justin Verlander did it.

Nova started his 26th game, which is the most by a Yankees rookie since Pettitte began that many games back in 1995.

This season, Nova may not win rookie of the year. Jeremy Hellickson starts for the Rays on Wednesday night. While Hellickson (13-10) doesn't have the record that Nova owns, his ERA (2.91) is nearly a run better. So it will be an argument of old school (wins) vs. new school (ERA and most advanced metrics) for the award.

But that is neither here nor there. Nova's attitude is reminiscent of Pettitte's. He doesn't try to complicate his task. He is not looking too far ahead or behind. The regular season has gone beyond his biggest dreams. But Nova wants more. He wants the postseason.

"I want to be there." Nova said. He will be. He should be the starting for the Game 2 of the ALDS. The Yankees may be able to make their plans as soon as Wednesday night.

ESPN researcher Mark Simon contributed to this story.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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