Ivan Nova Keeps Things Rolling

Another pitching gem puts Yankees in position to sweep Rays

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Jun 7, 2012  |  Updated 7:36 AM EDT
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It was child's play for Nova on Wednesday night.

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After Ivan Nova's last start, in which he blew a big lead to the Angels, he said that he needed to pitch better. 

With an ERA of 5.60 and a run of five games allowing five earned runs or more in his last seven outings, Nova looked nothing like the guy who was a reliable part of the puzzle for the Yankees in 2011.

He looked like a guy who might need to be replaced before too much longer by a team that doesn't have anyone to replace him at the moment.

So, yeah, he needed to pitch better against the Rays on Wednesday night. And he did.

Nova allowed a hit to leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings and then didn't allow another hit until the eighth inning. He'd start the ninth, leaving after two triples made the score 4-1 but doing little to tarnish his best start of the season.

Nova kept the ball down -- 21 of 24 outs were recorded on the infield -- thanks to renewed command of his fastball borne of work in between starts. Keeping the ball down was all the difference on Wednesday.

Alex Cobb pitched almost as well as Nova and allowed just two hits in the first seven innings. Those hits were home runs by Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, however, and that meant the Rays were playing from behind all night while Nova rolled through the lineup.

The only guy who seemed to give Nova any worry was old friend Hideki Matsui, who blasted three balls into the night, including the final out of the game, that fell about 45 combined feet short of home runs. Either age has taken its toll or Matsui is still rounding into form, because those balls would have all been gone a couple of years ago.

Nova's start also seemed like a case of a rising tide lifting all boats. After Phil Hughes stymied the Tigers on Sunday and Andy Pettitte dominated Tampa on Tuesday, Nova had little excuse not to follow in their footsteps as the Yankee rotation plays "Can You Top This" on their way back up the AL East standings.

The Orioles won Wednesday, leaving the Yankees a half-game back of first but that gap seems inconsequential if Nova and Hughes are going to keep pitching remotely like this. That's a big if, obviously, but it is one that feels more plausible now than it has at any other point this season.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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