New York Yankees: Ivan Nova Making Claim for No. 2 Starter's Role

Brian BuckleyContributor IIApril 23, 2012

Just last month, it appeared the Yankees were practically boasting about the bevy of pitching talent they had under their belts. 

Having “too much” pitching is a delightful problem to have, and the Bombers were the lucky recipients.  But eventually the euphoric bloom began to fall on their collective rose.

First, newly acquired Michael Pineda complained of shoulder stiffness and was placed on the DL, virtually extending his Tampa spring-training.  At the time, the news was disappointing, but the remaining rotation looked rock solid. And with Andy Pettitte waiting in the wings, Brian Cashman and his front-office cadre were patting themselves on the back with the ensemble they had assembled.

Then the season began.

While the Yankees might be tied for first in the A.L. east with a 9-6 record, their starting pitching has little to do with any April success.  With a collective ERA of 6.62, the underachieving group has been an overall disappointment.  Every hurler has contributed in their own personal way to add to the early season black eye.

Except for the guy who doesn’t lose.

On June 3, 2011 the Yankees lost a hard-fought battle in Anaheim against the Angels by a score of 3-2.  Rookie right-hander Ivan Nova took the loss after surrendering eight hits and three runs, which dropped his season record to 4-4.  The 25-year-old Dominican native hasn’t lost a game since that Friday night in SoCal. 

In fact, his streak has reached 15 winning contests going back to that loss to the Halos last year. While no one has ignored the overall progress, people are gravitating to the good in the midst of all the bad lingering around the other starters. 

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20:  Ivan Nova #47 of the New York Yankees delivers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox on April 20, 2012 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. Today marks the 100 year anniversary of the ball park's opening. The New York Yankees defe
Elsa/Getty Images

During spring training, manager Joe Girardi made it clear that certain guys were already guaranteed spots in the rotation, while others had some work to do.  The skipper all but penciled in C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda in March to be the 1 and 2 starters.  This declaration meant that guys like Nova had something to prove.

Instead of wowing the coaching staff, Nova did quite the opposite.  His final numbers from Tampa looked like a house of horrors: 1-2 record with 8.06 ERA.  To top off the nightmarish spring, in his final game he lasted just 2 and 2/3 of an innings, surrendering five runs on eight hits against the Mets.  The performance was so disappointing that Nova deemed it “the worst day of my life.”

Spring seems like years away.

Through three starts in 2012, he is 3-0 with a 3.79 ERA and apparently the success has turned his personal snapshot of himself upside down.  After ruining the Fenway Park birthday bash last Friday by pitching six innings of two-run ball, Nova made a bold claim that was far from modest.

 “If you ask me, ‘Who’s the best pitcher in the world?’” Nova pondered, “I say, ‘Me.’ You know, you have to believe it. That’s why you win so many games.”

Calm Down Christy Matthewson.

Putting his boisterous claims aside, Nova has been by far the most successful starting pitcher for the Bombers through the beginning of the year.  Even Sabathia has struggled out of the gate, and the rest have yielded results that have been either schizophrenic or just plain bad. 

Everyone knows C.C. is the unequivocal ace of the starters and his spot is guaranteed barring a major catastrophe.  But, Nova continues to win baseball games. He doesn’t have the prettiest ERA and he gets a ton of run support, but the number of wins are the only digits that are important.  Those are the same numbers that have the Yankee organization and their fans grinning.

“It makes you feel good”, Nova said.  “When you win, you make a lot of people happy.”