Ivan Nova has thrown 22 2/3 innings and the case can be made the six he has tossed as a relief pitcher in the last week have been his best of the season.
Nova has struck out eight batters in those innings and allowed seven hits while throwing 59 of 84 pitches for strikes. His first appearance was a high-leverage situation in Tampa Bay on Saturday and his second appearance can be described as an innings-eating circumstance.
Nova pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the 10th inning Saturday and provided the only highlight of a 9-4 loss to the Mets on Wednesday. He struck out six while allowing one run and five hits in five innings for his best line since Sept. 15, 2012 against Tampa Bay (six innings, two earned runs, four hits, eight strikeouts).
“We really liked what he did last night,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He saved our bullpen. The ability that he has, we’ve seen it. I think it’s just doing it consistently is important to him and getting back to where he was the first half of last year.”
The highlight of Nova’s performance was the eighth inning. He struck out Ike Davis, Mike Baxter and Ruben Tejada swinging all on curveballs, a pitch that has generated 24.5 percent of Nova’s 26 strikeouts this year.
“The curveball was really good,” Nova said. “Once I get ahead, I go with my curveball. That’s my strikeout pitch.”
Nova has not made a start since April 27 against Toronto when he was injured after allowing two runs and four hits in two innings.
Tejada avoids demotion, hits DL
Ruben Tejada could have been facing a demotion to Triple-A Las Vegas. He will not be suiting up for the Mets at least not in the next 15 days, but he also will not be taking the field in the minors.
Instead, he’ll spend his upcoming days recovering from a strained right quadriceps, the same injury that sidelined him for seven weeks last season.
The injury occurred during the ninth inning while sliding to catch a foul ball. Tejada ended a 0-for-12 skid with a first-inning single Wednesday.
Had Tejada been demoted, Omar Quintanilla would have been promoted. But since a DL stint occurred, Quintanilla joined the team anyways after posting a .331 average in the minors.
Quintanilla played 29 games for the Mets and was 5-for-14 against the Yankees for them. After leaving the Mets, he joined the Orioles and had two hits in 11 at-bats against the Yankees.
Collins said he is confident in Quintanilla’s defense and that he also might bat him leadoff against a right-handed starter. He also didn’t guarantee Tejada would reclaim the starting job, especially if Quintanilla performs well.
Niese to miss start
Jon Niese turned in his finest start of the season in Monday’s 2-1 win. It also turns out that he was pitching with left shoulder tendinitis.
To keep the problem from escalating further, the Mets have decided to skip his scheduled start Saturday afternoon against the Marlins. Niese’s next start would be June 7 against the Marlins, 10 days after he pitched against the Yankees.
Collins said the soreness has been bothering over Niese over his last three starts. During that stretch, Niese has allowed three earned runs over 20 1/3 innings.
“He was a lot sore after his last start,” Collins said. “We gave him a day off and we wanted to see how he came back yesterday. He was still sore. We had him examined this morning and soreness was still there.”
Niese underwent an MRI Thursday and no structural damage appeared. He said the discomfort started after he was pounded for eight runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings during an 11-2 loss to Pittsburgh on May 11.
Collins indicated Collin McHugh will replace Niese Saturday and emphatically stated that top pitching prospect Zach Wheeler was not a consideration.
“No, no, none, none,” Collins said of any possible Wheeler promotion.
Girardi mum on returns
Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis are expected to return Friday from their respective injuries after playing in a second minor-league rehab game for Double-A Trenton. But if that is happening, Girardi remained mum on the topic.
One thing that could be impacted with their returns is Robinson Cano batting second against right-handed pitching. Cano batted .341 from that spot with a .336 mark against right-handers going into last night.
“Your lineup against a right-hander could be different than against a left-hander,” Girardi said. “We could keep him in the two-hole as well. The one thing about Robby Cano is you want him to have as many at-bats as possible. That’s the bottom line. It’s very possible we could keep him there.”
Yankees notes ...
» The Yankees announced 2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui will be honored before their July 28 game with Tampa Bay, which was scheduled as their 55th home game of the regular season. Matsui will sign a one-day minor league contract with the Yankees and officially announce his retirement with his parents in attendance.
Matsui was also recently honored by the Yomiuri Giants — whom he played for 10 seasons from 1993-2002 — in a ceremony at the Tokyo Dome in Japan on May 5. During the event, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe presented Matsui with the People's Honor Award, the most prestigious award in Japan. It is bestowed on those who have made significant achievements in their careers and are beloved by the public.
» The Yankees said Andy Pettitte is on track to start Monday against the Indians after missing two weeks with an upper back injury.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.