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Losing Patience

Klap on Ivan Nova:

Ever since the second half of 2012, Nova says, “I’m just not repeating my delivery,” and now, according to PitchFx, he’s throwing 20 percent fewer strikes than in 2011.

Members of the organization say Nova has unconsciously dropped his arm slot to near three-quarters level. Other believe Nova’s front (left) shoulder is sabotaging his delivery, flying open too quickly, not unlike the flaw that ruined A.J. Burnett’s career in the Bronx.
Pick your theory, but the effect is the same. Chris Stewart said, “[Nova] was missing everywhere. I don’t think he had a feel for any of his pitches.”

Nova took no offense to such a harsh assessment. He’s the first to admit Stewart was right, and that sooner or later, the long, slow descent has to end.

[Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports]

All in the Family

Frankie, Nova, and Mo. Yankee notes by Chad Jennings.

Start Spreading the News

So you want the good news or the bad news? Well, I’ll give you both but let’s start with the good news: the Yankees won the ballgame tonight down in Atlanta and are now tied for first place in the American League East. Really, that’s the only news that matters but there’s more–the Yanks flashed the leather: Ivan Nova and Mark Teixeira turned a slick double play, Robinson Cano made a great pick on a hard-hit line drive and Nick Swisher robbed Brian McCann of a home run (McCann also hit a ball to the wall in center field and ripped a line drive directly into Teixeira’s glove).

Yeah, and Nova pitched seven scoreless innings and showed fine control. The sidearming glimmer twins Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada retired the side in order in the eighth, and Corey Wade and Boone Logan did likewise in the ninth.

The bad news? Yanks didn’t do much with the fourteen hundred runners they put on baset. And while that caused much irritation for Yankee fans during the game and may not be forgotten it’s certainly forgiven.

A shutout. First place. Good news wins.

Final Score: Yanks 3, Braves 0.

[Photo Credit: Bags; Scott Cunningham/Getty Images]

Do You Believe in Miracles?

There is a long profile on Ivan Nova by Jorge Arangure Jr. over at ESPN. Check it out.

[Photo Credit: AP]

Color By Numbers: Better to Be Lucky? Or, the Curious Case of Ivan Nova

Photo: Getty Images

Ivan Nova’s luck finally ran out. For the first time since June 3, 2011, the Yankees’ right hander was tagged with a loss, snapping a streak of 15 straight victories, which ranks as the 17th longest stretch since 1918.  Because of the outcome, Nova’s streak of 20 games without a loss also game to an end, leaving him two behind Whitey Ford for the franchise record (Roger Clemens’ stretch of 30 games with the Blue Jays and Yankees from 1998 to 1999 is the all-time record).

Longest Streaks Without a Loss by a Starter, Since 1918

Note: 12 other pitchers are tied with Nova at 20.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

In fairness to Nova, his streak wasn’t all about luck. During the 20 games in which he went without a loss, the righty posted a respectable ERA of 3.61 to go along with an average Game Score of 53.7. However, those figures usually don’t add up to such a long winning streak. Of course, that’s because one very important statistic has been left out of the equation. During Nova’s streak, the Yankees offense scored 139 runs, or nearly seven per game. As a result, Nova was able to avoid being saddled with a loss in nine games in which his Game Score was below 50, including two that were below 25.

Just like his winning streak, Ivan Nova’s early career has been a contradiction. In his first 23 starts, the right hander posted an impressive 9-4 record, but it was supported by very questionable peripherals. However, after returning from a mid-season demotion, Nova was a very different pitcher. Thanks to an increased use of his slider, the 24 year-old bolstered his Rookie of the Year credentials by not only going 8-0, but doing so with much more impressive underlying statistics.

Over the first five games of 2012, Nova’s development has seemingly taken two different tracks. On the one hand, he has continued to improve his strikeout and walk rates, which should bode well for overall performance. However, those trends have come at a price because the right hander has also experienced a very significant spike in the number of hits and home runs allowed. To this point, the negatives have outweighed the positives, at least based upon Nova’s ERA and average Game Score.

A Tale of Three Pitchers: A Segmented Look at Nova’s Career

Source: Baseball-reference.com

So, what are we to make of Nova? On the one hand, his improved ability to generate strikeouts and avoid issuing free passes seems very promising. Considering his astoundingly high BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .398, it also seems as if Nova has been the victim of bad luck (and perhaps bad defense). At least that’s what measures like xFIP suggest. According to that metric, which takes into account peripherals as well as a normalized HR rate to predict a pitcher’s future performance, Nova’s inflated ERA of 5.58 should be more like 3.83. The Yankees would probably sign up for that without a second thought.

But, can we just dismiss all of the hits and homers that Nova has surrendered? Although his BABIP is abnormally high, it’s worth noting that the number of line drives and fly balls hit off Nova have increased (from 47.3% combined in 2011 to 55.8% in 2012), which might explain why he has allowed so many more extra base hits. However, that doesn’t explain why he has transformed from a groundball pitcher to one who allows so many batted balls to be hit in the air.  One possible answer could be that Nova is throwing too many strikes, particularly early in the count. Although that theory is supported by the high OPS against Nova in first pitch, 0-1, 1-0, and 1-1 counts, a sample of only five starts makes it far from conclusive.

Ivan Nova’s Performance in Various Counts, 2012

Note: sOPS+ compares a split to the adjusted average for the league. A reading above 100 for a pitcher is considered below average.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Who is the real Ivan Nova and what role has luck played in his early career? His success has seemed to be a byproduct of good fortune, while his struggles appear rooted in bad luck, making it impossible to get a good handle on exactly what kind of pitcher he has been, not to mention will be. So, despite his impressive winning percentage, Nova remains one of the many question marks in the Yankees’ rotation, which, this year, hasn’t been lucky or good. At this point, I’ll settle for either.


Over at The Yankee Analysts, Larry Koestler looks at Ivan Nova vs. Doug Fister.

Chicago, Seven

Ivan Nova

Ivan Nova is the Yankees' third 10-game winner this year.

Twenty-six years ago, on August 4, the Yankees and White Sox played the third game of a four-game set at Yankee Stadium. It was Phil Rizzuto Day at the Stadium, and his number 10 was retired during a pregame ceremony that featured an appearance by a Holy Cow. A few hours later, Rizzuto’s future broadcast partner on WPIX, Tom Seaver, jumped into the arms of Carlton Fisk in celebration of his 300th career victory. Seaver handed the Yankees their fifth loss in six games. They proceeded to win 14 of their next 15 to gain on the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East standings.

No such historical significance defined the lead-up to Thursday’s Yankees-White Sox tilt at US Cellular Field. Derek Jeter passed Lou Brock on the all-time hits list last night. No member of past White Sox teams was enjoying a number retirement ceremony, although manager Ozzie Guillen was the White Sox’ starting shortstop in the Rizzuto-Seaver game.

The only questions were:

  • Would the Yankees extend their win streak to seven?
  • Where would the Yankees stand heading into the Boston series?
  • Regardless of the outcome, how would Ivan Nova pitch?
  • The answers were “Yes,” “Tied,” and, “Anything would have been better than Burnett, but in a word, awesome.”

    The offense didn’t need to give Nova a 12-run lead and hope he held onto it. He did just fine with a one-run advantage, save for the bizarre hiccup on the pitch-out in the third inning that led to the only run he allowed. He was even better when the game was tied in the middle innings. Nova faced the minimum number of batters in each of those innings, and benefited from great defense.

    The White Sox mounted a minor threat with one out in the sixth, shortly after the Yankees regained the lead. Juan Pierre reached base on arguably the cheapest hit ever, which brought Alexei Ramirez at the plate. Nova maintained his aggressiveness throughout the Ramirez at-bat, and also did a good job holding Pierre at first. With the count 2-and-2, Pierre took off for second base. Nova got Ramirez to swing at a high, inside fastball for strike three, and Russell Martin quickly threw to second. Robinson Cano fielded the ball on a short hop at the bag and tagged Pierre first on his left arm and then sweeping up to the brim of his helmet to complete the double play.

    That play was the turning point of the game. The Yankees tacked on two more runs in the seventh and three in the ninth. Nova made good on the insurance runs, as did the Yankees’ bullpen. Final score, 7-2.

    Martin called Nova’s stuff “electric” in his postgame interview with YES Network’s Kim Jones.

    “His fastball, he’s reaching up to 95, 96 when he needs it,” Martin said. “He’s working his slider off his fastball and he’s got a good curveball to go with that.

    “He’s got four pitches and they’re all working well for him right now. So when you throw 96 and you’ve got four good pitches, you’re going to be a stud, and he’s exactly that.”

    “Electric” has been the adjective of choice to describe AJ Burnett’s stuff through the years, almost as a defense mechanism to explain away his inconsistency. It is Nova, though, who a night after Burnett had an outage, lit up Chicago. His performance was not a statement but an exclamation that he should be in the majors to stay and perhaps be an integral part of the Yankees’ October plans. Nova’s victory means in one night, he has earned more wins in the month of August than Burnett has in two previous Augusts as a Yankee. In his last two starts, Nova has beaten more American League teams than Burnett has since June 1.

    There’s no decision to make anymore. Nova should be in the rotation. Joe Girardi’s decision may just be which veteran gets bumped come October.

    J Martin. The Canadian catcher is proving to be one of Brian Cashman’s shrewdest acquisitions last winter. The catch and throw on the double play in the sixth inning preserved the lead in what was then a tight game. He also drove in the last four runs of the game, the capper being a mammoth three-run home run in the top of the ninth. His quiet competitive grit is the perfect balance to Francisco Cervelli’s ebullience. And he’s healthy again.

    The Yankees outscored the White Sox 34-11 in the four-game series. They have outscored the opposition 63-19 (average score of 9-3) during the seven-game win streak. … Adam Dunn’s home run in the bottom of the ninth off Hector Noesi was the only run allowed by Yankees’ relievers in the series.

    The Yankees meet their White Whale in New England starting tomorrow. They’ll send Bartolo Colon, CC Sabathia and Freddy Garcia to the mound against Jon Lester, John Lackey and Josh Beckett. We know the Yankees’ history against Boston this season: 1-8 and perhaps singularly responsible for the Red Sox’ rise. Since getting their first win of the season against the Yankees, the Red Sox have won nearly two thirds of their games.

    Two items of note:

    1) CC Sabathia continues to stake his claim for a second Cy Young Award, but if he does not pitch well Saturday, or if he loses, he has almost no chance. Sabathia is 0-3 with a 6.16 ERA against the Red Sox this season. He’s averaged slightly more than 6 IP per start, 8 H, 4 ER, has a 1.67 K/BB ratio, and the BoSox are batting .308 against him. In his 21 other starts, Sabathia is 16-2 with a 2.11 ERA, averaging more than 7 IP per start, has a 4.08 K/BB ratio, and holding opposing hitters to a .223 average.

    2) Josh Beckett. The Yankees have done next to nothing against him this season. Beckett dominated the Yankees like he did in the 2003 World Series, to the tune of 25 strikeouts in 21 IP, and just 10 hits allowed.

    It should be a fun weekend, and a worthy playoff preview.

    Phil-in’ Good …

    Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira

    Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira bolstered the Yankees' offense.

    The general consensus heading into Tuesday night’s matchup with the Chicago White Sox was that Phil Hughes, ye of the 8.24 ERA and 1.90 WHIP, would be the odd man out of the Yankees’ newfangled six-man outfit. In his last two starts, he chumped his way through the Oakland A’s lineup in a way that Ivan Nova didn’t when being given a huge lead, and then struggled through six innings against a Seattle Mariners team that is redefining feeble.

    Hughes was seen throwing in the bullpen during Saturday’s Game 2 blowout, and later confirmed it was a scheduled throw day and he was still trying to find his mechanics. Maybe something clicked in that session and he didn’t leave it all on the range, so to speak.

    Hughes barreled his way through the White Sox lineup, allowing just three base runners in six innings, and throwing only 65 pitches before rain halted play prior to the bottom of the seventh inning. It was the hardest Hughes had thrown all year — he was consistently in the mid-90s with his fastball and spotted it as well as he has all year. He was aggressive when reaching two strikes on hitters. Hughes ended the first inning with a 95-mph fastball on the outside corner to strike out Carlos Quentin looking. In the second, he struck out A.J. Pierzynski on a nasty 0-2 curveball and later blew away Gordon Beckham with a letter-high fastball clocked at 94 mph. We haven’t seen Hughes at that level of attack mode since 2009, when he was Mariano Rivera’s setup man.

    In addition to being aggressive, Hughes, who had averaged 15 pitches per inning and slightly better than 5 1/3 innings pitched over his first seven starts of the season, was efficient. He needed only 65 pitches to get through his six innings. Hughes had also entered the game with a decidedly higher ratio of flyball outs to groundball outs (2.23-to-1). He balanced that out to an even 1-to-1, inducing seven groundball outs and seven flyball outs.

    On the YES telecast at the start of the rain delay, Michael Kay opined, “If someone said to Brian Cashman, ‘Hey Brian, if you could acquire a 25-year-old All-Star, would you take it?’ He might get that back right now.” Is Kay’s praise overstated? Hughes looked an awful lot like the pitcher who earned an All-Star selection in 2010, won 18 games and was the No. 2 starter in the playoffs before his mysterious deadarm period. It was his best outing of the season to date. It was also the third time in his last four starts that he completed six innings, so perhaps Hughes’ stamina is increasing along with his arm strength.

    Perhaps Hughes’ success coming on the road should not be viewed as a surprise. Last year, in 13 road appearances, Hughes’ ERA was more than a run lower (3.47 to 4.66), his BAA was 10 points lower (.238 to .248), opponents’ slugging percentage was more than 100 points lower (.336 to .443), and his K/BB ratio was better than 3-to-1, compared to 2-to-1 at home.

    What to make of this? We need to see a larger sample size to get a true gauge of what Phil Hughes is, and what he will be. The Yankees like their “proven guys” heading into the playoffs. That he didn’t lose his spot in the rotation after his DL stint, despite numbers that resembled Chien-Ming Wang circa, well, since he injured himself running the bases in Houston in 2009, proves the Yankees want Hughes to be one of their guys down the stretch and beyond.

    Hughes still has some proving to do, but the initial signs are encouraging.

    Hughes benefited once again from great run support. Sixteen times last year the Yankees scored 6 runs or more for him, and they’ve now done it in two of his last three starts.

    The Yankees jumped on lefty John Danks early, scoring in each of the first three innings. They broke the game open with two more in the sixth. Mark Teixeira homered from both sides of the plate to come within one of Jose Bautista’s American League lead. The two home runs were also historic: his first home run, a two-run shot in the fourth off Danks (batting right-handed), marked the eighth straight season Tex has hit at least 30 home runs. His solo shot in the sixth off Jason Frasor (batting left-handed), marked the 12th time in his career he’s homered from both sides of the plate in the same game. Teixeira is now the all-time leader in that category.

    In another under-the-radar note, Derek Jeter’s first inning single moved him past Rafael Palmeiro for 24th on the all-time hits list. His next hit will tie him with Lou Brock. At his current pace, he should pass Rod Carew (3,053), Rickey Henderson (3,055), and Craig Biggio (3,060) and finish the season at No. 20.

    Final: 6-0 (7 innings).

    Know When to Fold 'Em

    Steven Goldman looks at A.J. Burnett vs. Ivan Nova:

    Everything about Nova—good fastball but weak secondary offerings and a tendency to stop fooling hitters in the middle innings seems to scream relief work. He might someday develop that solid extra pitch, but it’s a gamble, whereas a Jimenez (or another established pitcher) has already cleared that particular hurdle. I remain a strong believer in internal development and a youth movement for the Yankees, but I don’t believe in youth solely for youth’s sake—if that was a goal worth pursuing, you could bring up any kid from any level of the minors. No, the youngster has to be demonstrably better than what you currently have. Nova is better than Burnett right now, but in the long term he’s likely to be surpassed. He’s just not special, and when someone offers to trade you their best stuff for your everyday, average players, you jump. That’s how legendarily lopsided trades are born. Every deal is a gamble, but Nova is not one of those chips not likely to come back and bite them.

    In short, when it comes to Nova, the Yankees need to use him (for Burnett) or lose him (for someone better than Burnett and himself).

    Last Night Was So Much Fun, Let's Do It Again!

    The Yankees, coming off a 12-4 thumping of the Rangers Tuesday behind a good but not great CC Sabathia, took the field Wednesday night behind the inconsistent Ivan Nova, with a line-up that resembled one that Billy Martin would occasionally pull from a hat.

    With Derek Jeter “decalfinated” and lefty Derek Holland pitching for the Rangers, Joe Girardi chose to sit the hot Brett Gardner, and installed Nick Swisher as his leadoff man.  Swisher last led off back in 2008 as a member of the White Sox.  The line-up also featured Alex Rodriguez at DH, Ramiro Pena manning third, Eduardo Nunez at short and yet another start for the embattled Francisco Cervelli.  Fortunately for the Yanks, Mr. Holland’s opus when it comes to the Bombers is an atonal dirge.  Coming into the game, in 21.2 innings versus the Yanks, Holland had allowed 41 baserunners and an 8.31 ERA.

    Neither starting pitcher distinguished himself.  They each had only one 1-2-3 inning before getting the hook.  Nova gave up two in the top of the first on two hits and a walk, and offered up one of the worst (highest) pitchouts seen in baseball in 2011, giving Cervelli no chance to cut down Ian Kinsler.

    Mark Teixeira evened the score in the bottom of the frame with a long homer just to the left of the “State Farm” sign in left, and the Yanks could have had more if not for Holland deflecting a Nunez hot shot up the middle and turning it into a 1-6-3 DP.  They added a run in the second, but Nova promptly gave the lead back on a booming homer to Kinsler and an Adrian Beltre sac fly in the third.

    Nunez, celebrating his 24th birthday, took Holland deep to tie the score at 4 in the 4th. After the Yanks took a 6-4 lead in the 5th, Curtis Granderson saved Nova’s night, thwarting a Ranger rally in the 6th, by cutting down Yorvit Torrealba at the plate on an Andrus single to center with two on and two out.  From there, the Yanks battered Mark Lowe, Darren Oliver and Neftali Feliz for six runs on five hits and three walks.  Included in the barrage was a bleacher shot by Ramiro Pena (!), another bomb by Teixeira (from the left side of the plate, marking the 11th time in his career he has homered from both sides in the same game), and a Robinson Cano three-run blast in the ninth.

    Final score . . . just like before . . . 12-4.






    Stuck in Reverse?

    What to do with the struggling Ivan Nova? Over at PB, Jay Jaffe examines the options:

    While Phil Hughes remains at least a month away from returning — he’s scheduled to throw live batting practice soon, though some would argue that’s exactly what he did during his three ugly starts — the Yankees do have other options should they turn away from Nova. Hector Noesi has been impressive in three relief outings, throwing 9.1 innings while allowing just one run. His 5/4 K/BB ratio isn’t anything impressive (particularly given an 11/9 K/BB ratio in the minors), but he’s shown a proclivity for pounding the strike zone for the bulk of his minor league career; his K/BB ratio on the farm is a stellar 5.1. One of his major league walks was intentional, and particularly during his four-inning major league debut during that epic in Baltimore, the kid — who’s all of two weeks younger than Nova, by the way — has shown some moxie with runners on base. According to Texas Leaguers, he’s thrown six different pitches: four-seam fastball (48.1 percent), slider (24.0 percent), curve (10.1 percent), changeup (7.0 percent), two-seam fastball (7.0 percent), and cutter (3.9 percent). While there may be some classification crossover amid these admittedly small samples, he’s clearly not afraid to use multiple offspeed offerings. Furthermore, he’s getting swinging strikes about three times as often (12.8 percent) as Nova.

    Also looming in the organization is Carlos Silva, who has compiled a 22/6 K/BB ratio and a 2.13 ERA in 25.1 innings over five minor league starts, most recently at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He has an opt-out clause in mid-June if he’s not promoted, and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to imagine that with another solid start from him, and another rough outing from Nova, the Yankees might take a peek before they risk losing him. The chances of the team catching lightning in a bottle with another corpulent castoff aren’t all that high, but Silva hasn’t drawn reports of looking completely washed up as Kevin Millwood did during his slog through the hinterlands.

    The Eyes Have It

    Ivan Nova threw a fine game on Sunday and Curtis Granderson’s three run homer was the difference as the Yanks beat the Jays, 5-2 to take the weekend series in the Bronx.

    Here’s Mark Teixeira hitting a dinger in the first inning:

    Robinson Cano bruised his hand and is day-to-day; Alex Rodriguez is in a slump. Nick Swisher hasn’t hit. Jorge Posada–who did have a double today–and Derek Jeter have been awful. But again, Nova pitched well, and the bullpen didn’t allow a run. Mariano got his 10th save and the Yanks are in first place.

    Which Pitcher is the Story?

    The story of the past week has been pitching, in a number of facets. But which pitcher was THE story? Let’s take a look at the items up for bid …

    * Mariano Rivera blew two consecutive saves after converting his first seven save opportunities and looking as superhuman as ever. And he wasn’t booed, because these saves were a) blown on the road; and b) didn’t come against the Red Sox at home.

    * Rafael Soriano, however, was booed, and deservedly so, during and after Tuesday’s 8th inning meltdown. Strong pieces at ESPN New York by Johnette Howard and the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Barbarisi on Soriano’s fragility.

    * Phil Hughes went to the DL, tried to throw, his arm was a noodle, and now a mysterious shoulder ailment that may or may not be Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is being discussed as a possible diagnosis. Compression of either the nerves, artery or vein in the clavicle area signify TOS. One of the possible causes of the “repetitive trauma”. The pitching motion classifies as repetitive trauma. In more severe TOS cases, surgery is required. Former Yankee Kenny Rogers had surgery to repair TOS in 2001. He came back and pitched seven more seasons.

    * Pedro Feliciano, it was great to meet you. Who is Lance Pendleton?

    * Bartolo Colon, who many believed should have been in the rotation anyway based on his performance in Spring Training, replaced Hughes and tossed an 8-inning gem. Even more impressive was the consistency of his velocity: 95 in the early going, and 96 in the later innings. Is he the Yankees best pitcher right now, as Wally Matthews suggests? Maybe.

    * Freddy Garcia, who pitches tonight, has a matching WHIP and ERA (0.69), and has allowed just 5 hits in 13 IP thus far.

    * AJ Burnett may be the best story of all. He suffered a hard luck loss on Monday because the Yankees’ offense is ineffective against pitchers that a) they’ve never seen before; b) pitch like Mike Mussina in the 86-89 mph range, but change speeds and have movement on their pitches. Despite the team result, he may have pitched his best game of the season. The question, as it always is with Mr. Allan James Burnett, is consistency. Will he breathe out of the correct eyelids in May?

    * Ivan Nova proved he may be able to get past five innings. Small sample size, yes. But still …

    * And of course, there’s CC Sabathia. He’s the ace, the grinder, and the guy who more often than not, somehow makes the right pitch to wriggle out of jams. An ace isn’t always a dominant strikeout pitcher. The main job, keep the opposition off the scoreboard and give your offense a chance to support you. He did it Thursday, just as he did so many times the previous two seasons.

    Of those guys, which story had the greatest impact? My vote is for Hughes, because of the trickle-down effect it’s caused in the rotation. If Colon and Garcia keep this up, they get the Aaron Small / Shawn Chacon Memorial “Surprise MVPs” Award.

    Feel free to agree / disagree below, in Comments.

    [Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun/AP]

    Observations From Cooperstown: Nova, Chavez, and Marion

    There is only one conclusion to draw from Ivan Nova’s performance on Wednesday night in Tampa: he is going to make the Opening Day roster, and most likely as the No. 4 starter. In bouncing back from his lone poor performance this spring, Nova pitched brilliantly by forging six hitless innings against the Orioles. He threw strikes, kept his fastball down, and even mixed in a slider, the latest addition to his repertoire. Nova recorded 11 of his 14 outs on ground balls, which is exactly the kind of ratio the Yankees would like to see this summer.

    With Nova slotted in the fourth spot, that leaves only the No. 5 starter to be decided. The two right-handed veterans, Freddie Garcia and Bartolo Colon, will continue to fight for that honor, with the loser possibly heading to the bullpen, especially if the Yankees take the careful route and place Joba Chamberlain on the disabled list to start the season. (I don’t think Chamberlain’s oblique injury is all that serious, but the Yankees tend to be overly cautious when it comes to these things.) The Yankees could also open up a relief spot by releasing or trading Sergio Mitre, a possibility that has actually been rumored this spring despite Joe Girardi’s affinity for the former Marlin.

    The other outside possibility for the bullpen is Romulo Sanchez, the ex-Pirate who is out of options. Sanchez has been wild this spring, but he has a live fastball that has impressed opposing scouts, and would almost certainly be claimed on waivers by someone. At 26, Sanchez is a lot younger than both Colon and Garcia, and more accustomed to pitching out of the pen.

    Whatever happens with the 12-man staff, the Yankees at least appear to have some decent pitching options, more so than they appeared to have at the start of spring training…


    Super Nova

    Yup, the kid pitched well last night.

    In Bloom

    Here’s Mark Feinsand writing about Ivan Nova today in the Daily News:

    Nova’s confidence is unwavering, making it difficult to tell whether he’s just pitched a great game or a ghastly one. Some mistake his attitude as that of a cocky kid, but Joe Girardi sees something else.

    “I don’t see him walk around here like, ‘I belong here, I’m the No. 1 guy here,'” Girardi said. “I don’t see him short-change his work. He works extremely hard. Those are things that tell me he knows what he needs to do to be good.”

    Nova is one of the guys I am really looking forward to watching this season.

    …Your New York Knicks

    …Who beat the Heat last night as the Oscars ceremonies dragged on.

    Meanwhile, good stuff from Florida. Here’s Ben Shpigel,  John Harper and George King (times two).

    We Know Drama (and Twitter)

    So much happened in the 25-minute span from 10:30 p.m. ET to 10:55 p.m. ET, in Tuesday night’s Yankees-Rays game. Five plays, specifically, spread over seven outs. All with the specter of a fifth straight Yankees loss and 1 1/2-game deficit in the American League East. Thanks to Curtis Granderson, Jorge Posada, Carl Crawford and Greg Golson, the Yankees earned a split in the first two games of this three-game set in St. Petersburg and vaulted back into first place.

    First, Granderson’s incredible diving catch robbed Ben Zobrist of an extra-base hit — possibly a three-bagger or even an inside-the-park homer — to end the ninth inning, bail out David Robertson and send the game into extras. Three pitches later, Jorge Posada repositioned a Dan Wheeler fastball into the restaurant above center field to give the Yankees the 8-7 lead. Posada’s bomb sent the Yankees’ Twitter universe into upheaval as beat writers, columnists and bloggers — myself included — attempted to describe the sudden turn of events in 146 characters.

    Mark Feinsand of the Daily News called the shot “ridiculous.” Our friends at RiverAveBlues guessed that Posada’s blast “probably would have hit the restaurant glass in the Bronx.” I wonder if it would have been out at Yankee Stadium I?

    Bottom 10, enter Mo to close it against Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce. Crawford reaches on a single. Longoria also unloads to center. “Holy cow, that looked gone. Instead, Granderson catches Longoria’s drive at the track in dead center,” read the tweet from the Ledger’s Marc Carig. Crawford, however, made the first of his two base running gaffes here. Instead of tagging and ending up on second base, Crawford went too far, and was forced to retreat to first. He proceeded to steal second. This set up the second Crawford gaffe: Joyce hit a high fly ball to shallow right field, and if you watched closely, you could see the play developing as Golson sped to circle the ball in order to catch it in optimal position for the throw to third base. Crawford sped toward third and Golson fired what Michael Kay called a “laser” to third. Alex Rodriguez picked the throw on a short hop and tagged Crawford on the shin.

    Game over. Arms raised. Fist pumps abound.

    Carig later reported via Twitter that Golson didn’t think Crawford was going. Granderson was yelling from center field to alert him. Watching the whole series of events, I can only think of my father’s assessment of Rickey Henderson, and how he used to scoff at broadcasters who lauded his base running skills. Dad was, and is, of the opinion that Rickey was a great hitter, great athlete, great base stealer, but a terrible base runner. He didn’t tag when he was supposed to, he didn’t run hard out of the batter’s box, etc. Crawford’s hiccups are more of the lack of instinct. The Yankees made Crawford pay for his hubris.

    It was one of the wildest finishes to what may have been the best regular season game the Yankees played since A-Rod’s walk-off home run beat the Red Sox in 15 innings last year.

    * * *

    Lost amid the hubbub of the last two innings was how events progressed to that point. Storylines heading into the game were as follows: 1) Four straight losses, two of them coming in disappointing extra-inning fashion, to relinquish control of first place for the first time since August 3. 2) Bullpen question marks. The Meat Tray and Chad Gaudin prominently involved. (To this end, Michael Kay recited a quote during the My9 telecast from pitching coach Dave Eiland: “Sometimes you have to lose a battle to win the war,” a not-so-subtle metaphor for the Yankees’ long-term thinking and plans to get the main horses for the bullpen healthy in time for the playoffs. Those horses will likely not include the Meat Tray or Gaudin. Back to the recap.) 3) Swisher and Gardner out of the lineup. 4) Tex with a broken pinky toe on his right foot. 5) Perhaps most flagrant, manager Joe Girardi says he’s gunning for the division but acting like he’s gunning to open the playoffs in Minnesota to face Carl Pavano’s mustache.

    To add even more reasons to drive fans into a questioning frenzy, Girardi trotted out a lineup that was essentially 5 1/2 deep to support Ivan Nova, who was opposing Matt Garza, ye of the no-hitter.

    The way both offenses started the game, though, combining to strand seven runners in the first two innings (four in scoring position), it was only a matter of time before the dam broke and the numbers got crooked in a hurry.

    For the Yankees, that time was the third inning, when they exploded for four runs, the rally capped by a frozen rope of a home run by Robinson Canóo. In the fifth, an A-Rod home run and another tack-on run had many Yankee fans feeling comfortable with a 6-0 lead.

    That was, until Nova lost the strike zone and coughed up the lead in the fifth. Willy Aybar’s pinch-hit home run — off a good 1-2 pitch by Boone Logan that was just golfed into the seats — cemented the 7-run comeback. The Yankees got the tying run right away, and then both bullpens took over. Before the Posada home run, three Rays relievers combined to retire 11 consecutive Yankees.

    The Yankees’ relief arms were equally good. Logan, to his credit, retired four in a row after the Aybar home run and Joba Chamberlain, Kerry Wood and Robertson combined to allow just one base runner. Until he arrived for the ninth, Robertson had warmed up on three separate occasions.

    The Yankees needed this win badly. Any shot of confidence will help, the way they’ve literally limped through the last week and a half. And if these two teams meet in the ALCS, we can only hope, as Ian O’Connor tweeted, that it goes seven games and each one resembles the first two games of this series.

    Hit the Bricks Pal and Beat It (Boom Bap Remix)

    The Yanks have lost four straight, seven of their last eight. They’ve been back-and-forth with the Rays for first place all season, a steady give-and-take, a dance. Now, the Rays are up by a half-game. But unless something horrible happens (the Red Sox trail the Yanks by seven games for the wildcard), they are both making the playoffs.

    Tonight gives Matt Garza against the kid Nova, in his biggest test yet. Should be fun. I see the Bombers scoring some runs–don’t know if they’ll haul in the Score Truck, but more than enough to win.

    Time to get back to the business of being in business.

    Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

    Hurts So Good

    The Future Hall of Famer, Frank Thomas, aka The Big Hurt, had his number retired before the game today in Chicago. Then Ivan Nova, who is a pretty big kid himself, pitched into the sixth inning and left the game with a 2-1 lead. Boy, was he impressive, throwing hard and throwing strikes. He also had a good curve ball. Seven K’s and just one walk.

    Marcus Thames–whose hacktastic swing sometimes looks straight out of a beer softball league–hit another home run and Brett Gardner singled home Francisco “4 for 4” Cervelli, putting a couple of runs on the board for the Yanks over the first three innings. After that, it was too much Nova and the Bombers’ bullpen. Kerry Wood slipped out of a bases loaded jam in the sixth and Joba Chamberlain hit 100 mph on the radar gun on his way to 1.1 scoreless innings.

    The Great Mariano worked around a one-out walk in the ninth and got Omar Vizquel to pop out in foul territory to Cervelli to end the game.

    Final Score: Yanks 2, White Sox 1. That’s win number one for Mr. Nova.

    A terrific win for the Bombers on a day when the pitching was good and the fielding was slick–the White Sox turned a lovely 6-4-3 double play in the second inning that is bound for the highlight reels.

    Sox and Rays go tonight on Sunday Night Baseball.

    Sit back, relax, grab some eats, have a beverage and enjoy. See ya in the a.m.

    [Picture by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images and Gourmet Magazine]

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    "This ain't football. We do this every day."
    --Earl Weaver