(Courtesy of the AP)
(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)
It was slightly fitting that Ivan Nova got the start yesterday on Old Timer's Day. Like a lot of the Yankee old timers, he's become a rare sight on the field and in the dugout at Yankee Stadium. We'd seen Nova only twice in the last 2 months before yesterday, both times as a relief pitcher, and hadn't seen Nova start a game since April 26th. While it might look like Nova turned in a sound outing yesterday - 2 of the 3 ER charged to him scored on a single off Boone Logan - the overall performance and means used to get there was actually not that different from what we've become accustomed to getting from Nova. The all too familiar results bring up more questions about what the future holds for Nova in a Yankee uniform.
For every good thing Ivan did out on the mound yesterday, there was something negative to take away from it. He struck out 7 batters in 6.2 innings, 4.2 technically since he didn't K anybody in his first or last innings of work, but he also walked 3 and hit 2. He dominated with his curveball, using it to generate the majority of his 17 swinging strikes out of 68, but had to go to it so much because his fastball command was typically shaky and the Tampa hitters made him pay for every mistake he made with it. He made big pitches to get out of the 1st and 6th innings on double plays, but then hit the final 2 batters he faced in the 7th with 2 outs to put the eventual game-losing runs on base. At the end of the day, Nova allowed 12 baserunners in 6.2 innings and that's just too many. For the most part he did a good job limiting damage, but as is usually the case with Ivan things could have been much worse.
So what's next for Nova? He said he felt like he did enough yesterday to stay in the Major League mix. Neither Joe nor anybody else in the organization supported that claim and there has been no indication from the Yankee decision makers that this was anything more than a spot start. Nova will likely be sent back down to Triple-A today so the Yanks can bring back a position player to add to their bench and will resume his work in that rotation. With Vidal Nuno still on the DL, Nova has leapfrogged him back into the 6th starter role for the time being and it looks like that's as high as he'll climb. After "starting" Game 1 of the 2011 ALDS and pitching the team to victory, Nova now finds himself slowly settling into a Quad-A swingman role in 2013.
Which is not to say Nova's diminished role is undeserved. He hasn't pitched well for over a full season and was on his way to being booted from the rotation back in April before he got hurt. For all the talk about what Nova could be for the Yankees, what he is is an inconsistent back-of-the-rotation arm who always seems to put more guys on base than he should. He struggles to locate his fastball, is inconsistent with his offspeed stuff, and has lost the faith of his manager over the last year plus by more often than not letting innings spiral out of control when he loses his command and gets in trouble. Sound like anybody else you know?
The difference between Nova and Phil Hughes is that Phil's contract is up after this season. He's almost certainly headed for a nice new contract and a bigger ballpark out west. Nova is in the final year of his pre-arbitration days and is still under team control through 2016. He should be a big part of the team's future rotation plans, starting next season when they could need to fill 2-3 spots. With the way the team has handled him this season, however, it's hard to think they're still looking at Nova as one of the candidates for those open spots. He could very well have pitched himself out of the present AND future rotation mix in the last year. If that's the case, the Yankees will have another decision to make about one of their young pitchers. 26-year-old starters with 3 years of team control are valuable commodities in the baseball world these days, but not so much when they're only working in Triple-A.