The Rays got a big lift to their rotation recently when the rookie Jeremy Hellickson was summoned from Triple-A to fill in for injured pitchers. Hellickson won three games in four starts, posted a 2.05 ERA and made good on his status as one of baseball's best prospects.
Ivan Nova doesn't have such lavish advance billing but he could wind up giving the Yankees a similar benefit as they battle the Rays for the AL East title over the remaining 37 games this season. Neither Nova nor the Yankees picked up a win in his first career start on Monday night, but anyone watching the game had to agree that the young righty showed as much reason to be in the rotation as three of the other guys currently taking regular turns.
Two things jumped out about Nova's performance. He got in a world of trouble in the first inning and faced a bases loaded situation after three hitters because he was overthrowing the ball. Nova was touching 97 on the radar gun, well above his usual velocity, and his command suffered as a result. He got a fly ball to left, though, and Brett Gardner gunned down Fred Lewis on an ill-advised foray to the plate to help him escape the inning unscathed.
None of that was particularly impressive, but the way Nova then calmed down and found his groove was easy to like. If he'd truly been overmatched by the situation, he would have been out of the game quickly but Nova wound up hanging around into the sixth and probably could have gone deeper into the game if Joe Girardi had a longer track record with him. He was pulled after 73 pitches, in large part because of the other impressive moment.
Nova gave up a home run to Jose Bautista in the third inning and watched as Bautista did an exaggerated bat flip on his way to first base. When they met again in the sixth inning, Nova threw a pitch way high and slightly inside causing Bautista to hit the dirt and then approach the mound. What impressed was the way Nova walked right toward Bautista and yelled at him, a confident showing for a guy at his first rodeo.
The emotion of the situation helped make Girardi's decision and one might argue that making Bautista angry backfired when he went deep again in the eighth inning to give the Jays the win, but there was plenty to applaud about Nova's performance. In a rotation where A.J. Burnett refuses to adapt when things aren't working and Javier Vazquez refuses to attack hitters, Nova's willingness to do both jumps right out at you.
Girardi wasn't willing to say when Nova might make another appearance, but unless Dustin Moseley throws a no-hitter on Tuesday it is difficult to imagine Nova will be waiting too long before getting back on the hill.