Ivan Nova might have done just enough on Friday night to not lose his spot in the rotation the next time through, but still didn't do enough to guarantee his spot moving forward. If he continues to not be able to keep runners off the basepaths and not generate any swings and misses, sooner or later the time is going to come where he'll be kicked to the bullpen and a new arm will be inserted into his spot, especially after Cash went public this week saying he was looking to upgrade the rotation. With the trade market not quite heated up yet, the first place to look for a Nova replacement would be internally. Here are the 4 top candidates.
Hector Noesi- He's always been plugged as a Nova 2.0 type, a guy with better stuff and even better command, and Noesi got called up earlier this season when the Yankees needed help in the 'pen. He was pitching relatively well in Triple-A (3.92 ERA, 3.73 FIP), and has performed admirably in his limited innings for the Yankees (0.96 ERA, 3.15 FIP in 9.1 IP). Noesi has already shown that the moment isn't too big for him, evidenced by his 4 shutout innings of relief in picking up the win in extras against Baltimore, and actually has a higher K/9 rate and lower BB/9 rate in the Majors than he had with SWB. Most important, though, has been Noesi's ability to get swings and misses, Nova's biggest Achilles heal. In his 9+ innings of work, Noesi has a 12.8% swinging strike rate, and the lack of info on him suggests that rate could stay consistent, at least for a little while before teams start to adjust to him. If Nova got hurt tomorrow, Noesi would be my first choice as a replacement.
Carlos Silva- Silva was the last of the Yankee "Free Agent Veteran Scrap Heap" initiative earlier in the season, and has stuck around longer than Kevin Millwood after 5 starts in the Yankees' MiL system. Looking at just his 3 starts in Triple-A, there are reasons to be hopeful that Silva could be better than Nova and reasons to be concerned that he might be a carbon copy. In his 3 starts for SWB, Silva has pitched 18.1 innings, giving up 7 earned runs on 16 hits and 4 walks. On the positive side, he has shown the ability to go deeper into games than Nova has been and has been much better at keeping guys off base. On the negative side, Silva has struck out only 8 batters in these 3 outings, with his K total decreasing each time out. His stuff sits somewhere between that of Nova and Freddy Garcia, so if he can't get guys to swing and miss in Triple-A, what's to say he would do it against better competition in the Majors?
David Phelps- This guy (copyright: Jon Gruden) has been the best pitcher on the SWB staff so far this year, and is the most ready to come up and pitch at the Major League level. In 11 starts so far, Phelps has put together a 3.29 ERA, 3.94 FIP, 1.27 WHIP, has increased his K/9 rate from his 12 Triple-A starts last year, and has a K/BB ratio over 3. He throws more strikes than Nova, walks fewer guys than Nova, and provides more length than Nova. In his last 3 starts, Phelps has gone at least 7.1 innings every time out, with 16 K to just 3 BB. His stuff might not play up to the Major League level as well as it is right now at Triple-A, but with Phelps' makeup and approach, it's reasonable to expect that he could provide results at least slightly better than Nova's.
Phil Hughes- He of the mysterious dead arm that was still never definitively diagnosed, Hughes has been on the recovery trail since his MRI, receiving cortisone shots, throwing off flat ground, and as recently as yesterday throwing off a mound in a simulated game. While there haven't been any velocity readings on Hughes, the general consensus is that his arm speed and ball speed are looking good through the zone, and Hughes could be on his way to some rehab starts beginning in Extended ST. The timetable for his return is still far out (at least a month), but if Hughes has recovered from whatever ailed him early in the year, and his arm strength and velocity is back, he would be a huge addition to the rotation and a huge upgrade over what Nova has been providing.
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