Joe Girardi made a big bet on Phil Hughes earlier this week when he guaranteed the right-hander another start the next time through the rotation.
Ivan Nova has a pretty strong hand of his own, though. Nova saw that bet on Thursday night and raised it with his best performance of the season in a 7-2 win that gave the Yankees a sweep of the White Sox.
Sorry, poker has been on the Yankee radar a bit too much this week and it has become difficult to view any development on the team without thinking about a green felt table. Hopefully Alex Rodriguez will find a new way to scandalize the world when it turns out he likes bacon, action movies or something else enjoyed by a large swath of the public without any alarm being raised.
Enough with the digressions because Nova gave us plenty of fodder for actual baseball conversation on Thursday night. He struck out 10 and the Sox only hit five balls out of the infield against him in a dominant 7.2 innings that should guarantee he keeps his spot in the Yankee rotation a little bit longer.
Nova was successful because he threw strikes all night and because he used his slider to get strikeouts once he was ahead in the count. He hasn't done that all season, but he has done it in all of his most productive starts, including the two he's now made since returning from a trip to Scranton prescribed, in part, to make him work on that pitch.
Compare that to A.J. Burnett for a moment. Nova was charged with working on a new approach because his old one wasn't working while Burnett just keeps banging his head against the wall with the same stuff when it has long been clear that trying something new would be the only way to go back to being more than overpriced rotation filler.
In a fair world, Burnett would be headed to Scranton now that Hughes and Nova have impressed so that he could also find something new to use to his advantage. There's no chance of that happening, of course, because Burnett has a huge contract and Nova has already been sent to the minors once while he was outpitching his veteran teammate.
There would seem to be no clearer meritocracy in the world than sports because there isn't much political wiggle room if you can't throw strikes or hit a fastball on the corner. The Yankees will be doing their best to disprove that if Nova gets the hook after Thursday night, even if the current six-man rotation is an inefficient use of a roster.
Figuring out which of two starters to send down is a nice problem to have when they are both coming off their best starts of the year. It would just be nice if the decision took into account that another guy, consistently mediocre and coming off a total disaster, was really the best choice for an August vacation.
If Girardi does opt for a Nova-less rotation, it would be the equivalent of folding a straight and trying to bluff your way to the pot with nothing better than a jack. A gutsy approach, especially since the entire American League knows exactly what's in his hand.