Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Nova Struggles, But Keeps Win Streak Intact

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Last night's start in Kansas City was not what we've seen lately from Ivan Nova. The rookie phenom has been as dominate a pitcher as any in the Yankees rotation for the past few months, well, with the exception of CC Sabathia. He's not quite there, yet. But he had been spectacular in his last few starts until last night when he struggled early on. Yet, he kept the game close enough for his offense to secure his 12th win.

Nova's performance was what I would call "AJ-esque." In the first inning, he struck out his first batter, induced a groundout to Melky Cabrera, who bats second in the Royals lineup, then gave up two singles and a double, putting the Royals up 2-0. How many times have we seen AJ Burnett get two outs with ease, only to implode and give up runs afterward? The Yankees would back up Nova in the 3rd inning, first on a single from Robinson Cano that scored Curtis Granderson who walked on an HBP. Later, a single from Russell Martin would score Cano and Mark Teixeira, who had also been walked by Royals rookie Danny Duffy. The Bombers were up 3-2.

But in the bottom of the 3rd, Nova would give up two more runs on a groundout which scored Alcides Escobar, who hit for a triple on his first at-bat, and then a home run by Cabrera. The Royals would go up 4-2. How many times have we seen Burnett give up a lead immediately following runs scored by the Yankees? Do you get the "AJ-esque" reference now?

Thankfully, the Yankees followed the 3rd with a 5-run outburst in the 4th inning; the big hit coming on a 3-run homer from none other than Cano, who scored Granderson and Teixeira. Before the homer, Derek Jeter scored Brett Gardner with a double to left and Teixeira scored The Captain with a single to right. The Yankees went up 8-3, and it was all Nova would need for the win, as the final score was 9-7. The win marked his 8th straight since early June, and it tied him with Andy Pettitte and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez for the most wins (12) by a rookie in the last 30 years.

Nova was lucky to have kept the Royals as close as he did. The majority of his pitches were fastballs, but too many of them were directly over the plate and high in the zone. In the 1st inning, he seemed determined to rely on his slider, which has been a successful pitch for him during his win streak, but the Royals were all over it so he wisely vacated it. Eventually, his control on the FB clicked, and he was able to pitch through for 5 solid innings.

''A win is a win, no matter the way you get it,'' Nova told the media afterward. Joe Girardi also seemed less concerned about the way Nova won, and more content with the win.

''We won the game. Bottom line is we won the game. He's pitched really well. Great pitchers get hit. It's going to happen.''

I was hoping that Nova would have a more representative outing than he had. The last time he pitched against the Royals in May, they tagged him for 8 runs on 10 hits, including 2 homers. He would only go 3 innings in that outing, making it his worst thus far for the season. Maybe the Royals will be one of those teams that just have his number. The good news is, this is the final series the two teams will meet this season. This is the first year that Nova has faced them, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against them in the future.

Robert Sabo/News
On a more enthusiastic note, Alex Rodriguez continues to move closer toward a return for the next series in Minnesota. In his first game with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, A-Rod went 1-for-3 with a single in a 2-0 loss to the Durham Bulls, the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. A-Rod played 6 innings at 3rd base; a great sign that the knee is doing well. Check out A-Rod's start and post-game press conference, here.

In tomorrow night's finale, Bartolo Colon will get the start against Bruce Chen. Chen is coming off of a 5-1 win against the White Sox last Friday, where he went 6 innings and allowed only one hit and 4 SOs. The last time Chen faced the Yankees was August 12, 2010, a 3-4 loss to Sabathia.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

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