Ivan Nova’s career began with him often stalling sometime around the fifth and leaving the Yankees aching for more.
Now, they’re asking for more curveballs. Nova mastered the pitch and reached the seventh inning for the second straight game in pinstripes.
The youngster at the back end of the rotation weaved his way through trouble and pitched 6 1/3 innings in a 5-2 victory over the Blue Jays yesterday.
“It was a struggle early for him,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He wasn’t using his curveball. He had no fastball command but then he started using the curveball. It was a good adjustment for him.”
Francisco Cervelli often caught Nova and his curveball through the minor leagues and the catcher’s season debut just happened to coincide with another positive progression of that pitch.
“Now it’s better,” Cervelli said. “He can throw it for a strike and in the dirt. When you have a little more experience (you can throw it).”
In his first two starts after reaching the 10-start mark for his career, Nova has thrown that pitch 58 times. He threw it 30 times Tuesday against the White Sox and 28 more times yesterday while allowing two runs and six hits.
“It’s been the reason he’s had two decent starts,” pitching Coach Larry Rothschild.
The reason the curveball even played such a prominent role was his fastball was not working the way it should. It was being left up in the strike zone, especially when Adam Lind hit the first fastball of the second off the left field foul pole for a solo home run.
“Since the last start, I started using it,” Nova said. “Today, a day like today, I didn’t have command of my fastball and I have to use that pitch.”
Since Nova was aware of it, Rothchild didn’t have to tell him when he paid a visit with a man on second and one away in the second. The visit that Nova described as confidence-building seemed to work although the Blue Jays scored another run in the third.
After allowing Toronto’s second run on Lind’s two-out base hit to right, the curve was used to get five of the remaining 11 outs. Its biggest appearance occurred in a dangerous situation in the fifth with the Yankees still trailing 2-1.
The inning began with Rajai Davis lining a single to left field. Davis then attempted another stolen base but hesitated to look towards the plate for a split second and was thrown out by Cervelli.
With Davis erased, Nova had Yunel Escobar at 1-2 and promptly struck out the Toronto shortstop on a curve that seemed to tail away before hitting the outside corner. After getting Escobar, Nova walked Jose Bautista but then faced Lind for the third time.
Determined to not let Lind beat him again, Nova struck out him on three pitches and ended the fifth when Lind swung at an inside curve that hit the dirt.
“I think he took it to heart and knew he had to improve,” Rothchild said about the curveball.
And when Nova’s curve showed up and was effective, the Yankees were halfway towards their 16th victory but first they needed some runs and that came right after the two biggest outs thanks to the life Curtis Granderson’s bat has shown since last August.
Granderson’s three-run home run on a full count fastball made it 5-2 and, after Nova reached the seventh, the bullpen took over from there.
Robinson Cano left the game with a bruised hand after one of Nova’s pickoff throws to second base sunk in the dirt. Cano told Girardi he could play a few more innings of defense and when the second baseman’s turn came up in the bottom of the eighth, Eric Chavez pinch hit.
To the surprise of nobody, Kevin Millwood opted out of his minor league deal and became a free agent. Millwood had until May 1 to be called up but when he struggled Tuesday for Class AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre, it was apparent the Yankees were not going to recall him.
Jorge Posada was hitless in 19 at-bats before his fifth inning double. Despite his .133 batting average, hitting Coach Kevin Long said Posada looks a lot more comfortable during his at-bats.