Russell Martin knew the potential Ivan Nova possessed. Now he knows more about the makeup of the pitcher making a strong case to be the No. 2 starter for the Yankees.
“I knew that he had a good arm,” Martin told Metro. “He had a lot of potential. I didn’t really know much about him. I didn’t know how he was as a person but he’s classy guy once you get to you him.”
The first time Martin saw that potential was during spring training. He caught six no-hit innings on March 17 against the Orioles and discovered that Nova possessed a slider that could be equally as effective as the fastball and curveball he had heard about upon joining the Yankees.
“After that I knew,” Martin said. “You can show glimpses of things, it’s just a matter of being more consistent and that’s what happens when you’re young. You’re searching for that consistency and it seems like he’s found it.”
Nova is celebrating the one-year anniversary of his first major league start by being the best Yankee starting pitcher not named CC Sabathia.
He is 9-0 in his last 10 starts with a 3.48 ERA and is the first Yankee rookie starting pitcher to win nine straight since Whitey Ford did it 61 years ago. His next win will be the most by a Yankee rookie starting pitcher since Doc Medich was 14-9 in 1973.
“He always had a good curveball, but the pitch that has gotten better as we went along is the slider,” Martin said. “I don’t know why it’s better. I don’t know if it’s the way it’s coming out of his hand or if he’s generating more arm speed. I’m not the pitching coach, but it’s coming out sharp and hitters are having a hard time recognizing it and that’s why they’re swinging and missing at it.”
Not only are hitters swinging and missing, they are not rattling him in tough situations. For Martin, the most notable instance was Sunday in Minnesota when Joe Mauer’s single fell between outfielders Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher in the fourth inning of a scoreless game.
Some pitchers might have become flustered at the misplay. Nova just continued humming along, ending that threat with a double-play grounder and then getting three swinging strikeouts with men on base the next two innings.
“A lot of pitchers get frustrated and a lot of guys will show emotion a little bit and then be able to overcome it,” Martin said. “He didn’t even look like it bothered him, he just got the ball. I think his teammates appreciate that and it shows what kind of person he is.
Nova’s next chance to continue being the top rookie pitcher in baseball according to Martin will come sometime this weekend in a five-game series in Baltimore. That will be when the Yankees likely end their six-man rotation and when a decision is made, it won’t be Nova.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.