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Yankees ride Nova, Granderson to easy victory

The postseason won’t start until Sept. 30, but it’s hard to imagine IvanNova not getting a crack at starting one of those games.

Even without his best off-speed stuff, the present version of Ivan Nova represents a better option than A.J. Burnett when the postseason begins in six weeks.

Nova did not have that new slider, but managed to get by on mostly sinking fastballs and the result was three runs and five hits in six-plus innings during last night’s 9-3 rout of the Angels.

“He’s been incredible,” catcher Russell Martin said. “Today stuff-wise was probably his least good stuff that he’s had so far but he was still able to pitch and he’s focused out there.”

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Nova threw 96 pitches -- 80 fastballs. Most of those pitches were of the sinking variety and that led to 13 groundball outs without any strikeouts.

“Today I had command of my fastball,” Nova said. “The off-speed [just weren’t] there [for me].”

“He’s got such a good fastball,” Martin said. “He can get by on that alone.”

It is the same pitch Burnett abandoned during his four-run sixth inning 24 hours earlier. Sticking with it led to a performance by Nova better than most starts Burnett has made since the end of June.

Since returning from the minors when the Yankees needed room for Phil Hughes, Nova is 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA. Now he is no danger of being sent down anytime soon after improving to 7-0 with a 3.10 ERA since a June 3 loss at Anaheim.

“You never want to go back down,” Nova said. “When I get back here, that’s one of the first things I said [when I returned].”

“I think he took it as a challenge that this would be the last time you’re able to send me down,” Girardi said. “That’s kind of how we told him to take it -- make us force our hand in a sense, don’t give us an opportunity to say you need to work on this or that and I think he took that upon himself and I think it has paid huge dividends.

“I think he has made great strides since last year as a starter,” Girardi said. “There were some times when some big innings that got away from him. I just think that he has become more consistent. I think that he has developed another pitch and I think when we look back on last year, what we asked him to do in the month we asked him to [do it], I really think that helped him and it’s showing up this year.”

Already armed with a groundball rate of 54 percent, Nova continued being a groundball machine. The thirteen ground ball outs were four shy of his career best and at one point Nova recorded six straight outs on the ground.

One of the few fly balls allowed by Nova accounted for the first run -- Peter Bourjos’ solo home run in the fifth.

Besides keeping the ball down, Nova also was economical. Through six, he had 80 pitches and did not throw more than 16 in an inning.

Eventually Nova seemed to tire during the seventh when the first three Angels reached and Torii Hunter scored on Vernon Wells’s base hit. That prompted Rafael Soriano to begin getting loose.

Nova had just two 3-0 counts with the last coming against Alberto Callaspo, who drew a bases loaded walk. That ended his night with a standing ovation from the crowd -- the complete opposite of the response to Burnett 24 hours earlier.

The Yankee bats quickly rolled over rookie Garrett Richards in his major league debut. They had a three-run lead just 14 pitches in when Curtis Granderson equaled his career high with his 30th home run.

Granderson atoned for getting picked off for the final out of Tuesday’s loss by surpassing his career high with a solo shot in the fifth that made it 6-1. It was more than enough for Nova.

“When you don’t have your good stuff and you can do that, that’s a sign of maturity,” Girardi said.

Follow Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.

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