Saturday, March 19, 2011

New York Yankees First Look: Ivan Nova

Buzz surrounds New York Yankees prospect and probable No. 5 starter Ivan Nova following his recent spring training starts. In three starts and one appearance, Nova has accumulated 14 IP, and five Ks, sporting a 1.29 ERA and a WHIP of 0.83. Nova's single blemish this spring (two earned runs on a home run) came against reigning MLB home run champion Jose Bautista.

The Yankees need a reliable starter at the back end of the rotation, since after the Sabathia-Hughes-Burnett combo, the options are Nova, Sergio Mitre, Freddy Garcia and the Bavarian cream doughnut himself, Bartolo Colon.

We signed him for peanuts, nyuk nyuk nyuk.

Nova has shown great promise on the mound, and given his youth (he's 24), he looks to be a solid member of the Yankees pitching staff for many years to come.

So those numbers you sited are just spring training you may say, and that carries as much weight as Greg Anderson's testimony in the Barry Bonds trial thus far. Fair enough.

At Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, Nova compiled a 12-3 record in 23 starts and 145 innings, a 2.38 ERA and a 1.262 WHIP. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was the highest of his minor league career at 2.4. By comparison, Tim Lincecum had a SO/BB ratio of 3.0 last season, and everyman starter Jon Garland had a SO/BB ratio of 1.56. Nova struck out 7.1 batters per 9 innings in AAA, and did little to suffer the long ball, giving up only 10 home runs in AAA last year in his 145 innings. Kevin Correia, who pitched exactly 145 innings, the home games in spacious PETCO Park, gave up 20 homers last season.

Those numbers were more than enough to give the youngster a look in the big leagues, and Nova proved himself as a fighter. As a late August call-up Nova had fine outings against Toronto and the Chicago White Sox. In the 5th inning of the White Sox game, a double by Gordon Beckham followed by an RBI single and stolen base by Juan Pierre threatened the Yankees' slim lead. Unlike the car that bears his name, Nova persevered. Nova struck out Omar Visquel (one of his 7 over 5.2 innings he pitched) to preserve the 2-1 lead, and the game ended with the same score.

Nova went on to exclusively face the AL East for the rest of the season, with mixed results. He pitched well against Baltimore when the Orioles were playing like a real big league team under Buck Showalter, but gave up six earned runs to Tampa Bay in 4.2 innings. Against Boston on Sept. 25, a bad 3rd inning cost the Yankees four runs before he was pulled in the top of the fifth, but in the 1st, 2nd and 4th innings, Boston was set down in order.

While the season did not end with the aspirations with which the initial August starts generated, it was still promising. Nova's numbers came down from what he was producing in AAA, but that is to be expected. His ERA ended at 4.50 -- climbing after the Baltimore game -- while his SO/BB ratio was 1.53 and K/9 was 5.6. Again, the vast majority of his starts were against the AL East, and I would be happy with average performances from my No. 4 or 5 starter against the toughest division in baseball when the Yankees' lineup has his back.

Dressing like the Baseball Furies is a clause in the Yankee dress code.

It is likely that Nova still has some growing pains left, but that is to be expected from any 24-year-old. Nova's  talent is not a question though. His solid 2010 campaign proves that he is ready for the majors, and while he probably will not be a star this season, he will be a fine contributing member to the Yankees rotation and deserves a rotation spot over Garcia, Mitre and Colon.

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