Ivan Nova hit hard in loss to Orioles
During the postseason last October, a few talent evaluators told me Nova was for real and not a one-year wonder. However, using the benefit of hindsight and the evidence of Nova’s current numbers, Nova bore the fruit of tremendous run support (an average of more than seven runs per game this season). And after Nova blew a 5-0 lead on Tuesday, allowing nine runs on 10 hits and a walk over five innings, his regression – and not progression – has been a disturbing trend. He gave up .208-hitting Chris Davis’ grand slam that sparked the Orioles to an 11-5 win, the Yankees’ ninth loss in their last 12 games. After the game, manager Joe Girardi pulled no punches.
“He worked his tail end off after he gave up two singles in a row in the second inning to get two outs and two strikes,” Girardi said. “Then threw a slider that didn’t break, and it just kind of snowballed after that. That’s something that he’s really been good at this year — not letting things unravel. Tonight it did for whatever reason. He just didn’t really have good stuff tonight.”
It’s one thing to go through a bad stretch, and over his last four starts Nova (10-5, 4.53) is 0-2 with a 7.54 ERA while allowing four home runs. It’s another to, even unknowingly, contradict your manager. That’s what Nova did when assessing his performance. It was just them breaks.
“Bad luck,” Nova said. “I had a bad day. It was a tough day for me. I threw a lot of good sliders, I threw some good curveballs, I broke two bats and they got base hits. It’s not a good day. … I felt really good and I threw strikes but I gave up 10 hits, nine runs. That’s part of the game. I just have to turn the page.”
Nova’s postgame comments reminded me and the rest of the media of Ian Kennedy on August 8, 2008 in Anaheim, Calif. He was ripped for five runs in two innings of a 10-5 loss to the Angels and after the game insisted he made good pitches and wasn’t upset. Those words didn’t go over too well. And like Kennedy, Nova is a good guy, an honest guy, who unfortunately was in denial over how he yet again fell into the maddening habit of losing focus, which Girardi has cited in the past.
"Well he better get it back, or it's going to happen a lot" Girardi said. "You can't lose focus. You're a Major League pitcher. You have to be able to put things behind you. If you make a bad pitch you have to be able to get the next guy out."
Nova will make his next scheduled start Monday in Detroit, but if the Tigers take him apart, does that punch his ticket back to the Minors? The Yankees have a starter-in-waiting, David Phelps, in the bullpen, and Girardi did something extremely rare, call out a player in public. New York’s apparent insurmountable AL East lead is down to 5 ½ games over the Orioles. The trade deadline has passed and there is no indication Brian Cashman will absorb big-money players who pass through waivers. Any kick in the rear will come from within, and Nova may be a bad start or two from becoming an example.
Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC