Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Potential Long-Term Effects Of Nova's Injury

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

Ivan Nova's Saturday was already a bad one before the injury was announced.  He was up in the strike zone again, getting knocked around the park, and not giving his team much of a chance to win.  His early exit and subsequent UCL tear diagnosis was a stomach punch to him, a sobering blow to what had been a mostly positive start to the Yankee season, and a possible explanation for his early struggles on the mound.

With Nova now out of the picture for the near future and most likely the remainder of the season, the Yankees will have to find a way to cover for that loss.  They appear to have found a suitable replacement for the short-term in Vidal Nuno, but the baseball season is a long one and it's barely over 10% old.  More injuries are all but certain and it's the long-term ramifications of Nova's injury that are now the concern.  The ripple effect of losing Nova could extend from this past weekend into the final month of the season in a variety of ways, all of which the Yankees will have to consider and be prepared to address moving forward.

Thoughts On Nova's Injury

(That image hurts my elbow.  Courtesy of the AP)

Looking at his career history, maybe we should have seen this coming.  The partially torn UCL in Ivan Nova's right elbow that caused him to leave his last start early and landed him on the disabled list is not an isolated incident.  Nova has a history of arm injuries dating back to his early days as a Major Leaguer and a history of command and performance problems that seemed to be precursors to these arm injuries.  In a year where multiple pitchers are going down with major arm injuries each week and have been since late in Spring Training, Nova's name was the most probable of all the Yankee pitchers to get added to that list.

And yet there's still a level of shock that came with the announcement that he had suffered the UCL tear.  Maybe it was the hope that this was going to be the year Ivan put it all together.  Maybe it was the belief on a lot of people's parts (myself included) that he was going to take that next step this year.  Whatever it was, Nova's injury is a crushing blow and one that I fear could have a harmful effect on his career going forward.

Robertson Activated From The DL

With every death, there is rebirth.  With every season-ending UCL tear, there is a reliever returning from a short DL stint with a groin strain.  I honestly don't know if there's any truth to that statement, I haven't checked the numbers.  But the important thing is that the Yankee bullpen, which needs to step up in light of Nova going down, will get its most important piece back tonight.  David Robertson has recovered from his groin strain and has been activated off the 15-day.

Bryan Mitchell was sent back down to Double-A Trenton yesterday to clear a 25-man spot, so no roster move needs to be made today.  Matt Daley and Cesar Cabral were both DFA'd in the days prior as the bullpen got shuffled around, and both have reportedly cleared waivers to return to Triple-A.

First Big Test For Tanaka Tonight

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

We've seen him struggle a little bit early in games and then find his stuff and dominate late.  We've seen him handle 2 relatively deep and powerful divisional lineups with 2 completely different approaches and then watched him manhandle a shallower NL lineup.  In 3 starts, Masahiro Tanaka has been everything the Yankees and their fans hoped he would be.  He's been the best starter in the rotation and his early success provides a measurable amount of confidence that the team can absorb and overcome the loss of Ivan Nova.

Tonight he'll face his first "real" test as a Yankee when he takes the mound in Fenway to open another series with the Red Sox against their ace Jon Lester.  There's nothing on the line in the grand scheme of things, but like it or not, Yankee pitchers are always judged in part based on how they perform against the Sox.  The Sox were connected to Tanka this past offseason, albeit not nearly as closely as New York, and their fans will remember that and see Tanaka as another case of the big budget Yankees "stealing" a player away with their money.

The environment will be hostile, the lights will be bright, and the opposing lineup will have more than a few dangerous, experienced, smart hitters in it.  Tanaka's already aced his first few Major League quizzes.  He takes his first test tonight in his first true taste of the Yanks-Sox experience.  Based on what I've seen so far, I'm expecting him to score well.

Strong Starts For Some Top Pitching Prospects

Luis Severino (Low-A): 4 GS, 14.0 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 19 K

Rafael DePaula (High-A): 3 GS, 14.1 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 19 K

Manny Banuelos (High-A): 4 GS, 9.2 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 12 K

I haven't talked too much about prospects since the season began, but the Yankees getting good starts from arguably their top 3 pitching prospects definitely bears mentioning.  A lot of people soured quickly on DePaula when he struggled in Tampa last year and I didn't think that was fair.  He's looked much better so far in his return trip.  Severino got started off slow with light workloads, but he had the reins taken out him last night and he responded with 5.2 shutout innings, 8 K, and 0 BB.  ManBan actually tossed 3 scoreless appearances before giving up all 4 of his ER in his last outing.  More important than his results are how good his stuff and command has looked and they've both looked very good.

With 2nd-tier guys like Nik Turley, Jose Ramirez, Jose Campos, and Ty Hensley yet to start their seasons for a variety of health/injury-related reasons, it's good to see the Yanks getting something positive from the cream of their pitching prospect crop.  Once the weather warms up some more, I expect we'll see ManBan start to get moved back up towards Triple-A.