Ivan Nova stood in front of his locker along the row of Yankee starting pitchers and quietly stated his goals for the season.
“Win, win and win,” Nova said.
It might not always work out that way but last night it definitely did as the 24-year-old pitched like a poised veteran and gave the Yankees six innings in a 4-3 victory over the Twins.
Nova’s first start as a fulltime member of the rotation began with him holding the Twins hitless for 3 2/3 innings and only allowing two of the first 12 hitters to reach base.
In between there were three runs but at the end there was veteran poise such as when he threw three curveballs at Joe Mauer and retired the three-time AL batting champion on a weak groundout to end the fifth. Then in the sixth, he used his changeup to retire Delmon Young on a double play and the fastball to strike out Jim Thome for the final out of his final inning. It was an at-bat that Nova seemed determined to finish successfully because Thome had doubled on a 3-2 changeup in the fourth and when he won the battle; he was greeted by a hug from CC Sabathia.
“He made some pitches where I though that last year perhaps that game could have gotten away from him,” Alex Rodriguez said.
During the sixth, the Yankees began getting their bullpen ready just in case. It was a situation during his September stint in the rotation that Nova often wilted, faltering once the fifth inning came around, but this year much like his change in locker locations, expectations are grander.
“Right now, I think he’s just focused on competing and not really letting his foot off the pedal as he goes through the game,” catcher Russell Martin said. “Last year, a lot of people talked about him after the fifth inning he kind of let off a little bit. Right now, it seems like after that sixth inning, it looked like he was getting better through the game – so that’s a good sign.”
“These are things he’s going to have to do for us,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s going to have to be able to get through these situations. It’s all part of learning how to pitch at this level, and he was throwing the ball well and we stayed with him. You want him to learn how to pitch in those situations.”
Nova’s showing allowed the Yankees to employ the formula they would like for most of their wins (Joba Chamberlain followed by Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera) and they finished it up perfectly.
“I want to go longer than six innings, but we have the best bullpen right now,” Nova said. “I think I’m going to keep winning games like that.”
The Yankees also apparently have one of the best home run hitting teams in the league as well. Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada connected in the opening two innings off Scott Baker, giving them 11 through four games.