(Jesus Who? Courtesy of The AP)
As seems to be SOP around Yankeeland lately, there was big breaking news yesterday with the announcement that Andy Pettitte would make his return to the rotation on Sunday. Ivan Nova was scheduled to start on Sunday after making his start last night, and recent struggles aside, there wasn't much reason to expect that Nova was the one targeted for replacement in the rotation. In any event, Nova pitched like he was trying to earn a spot, and got the Yankees their 2nd straight win in the process.
- In plain English, Nova was not fucking around last night. He came out firing, and retired the first 12 batters he faced through 4 innings in order. Well, sort of in order. He gave up a leadoff single to Ben Zobrist to start the game and then retired 12 in a row after ending that 1st inning with a strike-'em-out/throw-'em-out DP.
- After a slow start, the Yankee offense started to build a little cushion for Nova. It started in the 4th inning, when Raul Ibanez clubbed a 2-run HR just one AB after Robinson Cano was thrown out trying to score from 3rd on a Nick Swisher groundball.
- Curtis Granderson extended the lead with a solo HR, his 10th of the season, in the bottom of the 5th to make it 3-0 Yanks. His at-bat was a 10-pitch battle against James Shields and ended when Shields hung a changeup. Just a beautiful display of hitting by Granderson.
- After cruising through 5 innings, Nova got into a bit of trouble in the top of the 6th, giving up a leadoff HR to Jose Molina (really) and walking Ben Zobrist. After a visit to the mound, Nova gathered himself and ended the inning with a GIDP by Carlos Pena and a follow-up groundout by B.J. Upton.
- Joe showed a lot of faith in Nova by letting him come out for the 7th, and Nova made that decision look questionable by giving up another HR, a walk, and a double to put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position. But as he did the inning prior, Nova managed to work out of trouble again, stranding the runners and ending the frame with a K of Jose Molina.
- The Rays tacked a run on in the 8th off of Rafael Soriano, but a solo shot from Ibanez in the 7th and an RBI double by Mark Teixeira in the 8th was enough to keep the Yankees ahead. Left-handed RBI from Teix always make me smile.
- It was an impressive outing for Nova. His fastball was living mid-90s again, his slider was really working for him, and he threw some nice curveballs for strikes and mixed pitches well. He still missed his spots a few times, but the fact that he worked out of trouble twice late in the game, and the fact that Joe left him out there to do it, spoke volumes about how Nova has grown as a pitcher in the last year.
- After a clean outing on Sunday, D-Rob decided to get back to his usual routine and load the bases in the 9th in his first save opportunity of the season. He struck out the last 2 hitters he faced, and as usual no runs crossed the plate, but there was a little sweating involved in locking down the W.
- Nova: 7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, W. After a couple of rough outings, Nova was very good tonight. If there was any kind of implication that he was subject to losing his spot in the rotation on Sunday, I think it's safe to say he answered that tonight.
- Ibanez: 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI. It was a homer-happy offense tonight and Ibanez led the charge. Every time I think I want to start speaking ill of his contributions, he has a night like this.
- Russell Martin: 0-3. Dude, this is not how you're supposed to hit in a contract year.
- RISP Fail: 1-9. Only 5 total team LOB, but 1-9 is not a good look. This offense is too good to continue to fail to come through when they have chances to extend a lead.
Game 2 of this series is tonight and David Phelps will have a true audition for a rotation spot. His lack of track record has to make him the underdog to Phil Hughes for losing his spot on Sunday, and Phelps is probably still working off some form of a pitch count. He's going to have to be both good with his stuff and efficient against Jeff Niemann to make this discussion interesting.