4 Reasons the Yankees Cannot Win Without Ivan Nova Stepping Up
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“They’re hitting everything. It’s not one pitch in particular. They’re hitting everything.”
The words of Ivan Nova after another battering, frustrating loss last night. The Yankees fell in Detroit 7-2. Nova was rocked for seven runs on 11 hits, routinely leaving two-seam fastballs over the middle of the plate. Ivan Nova hasn't been the same pitcher since the All-Star break one month ago.
How bad has he been? Chad Jennings of The Journal News explains:
"Nova’s ERA is above 8.00 since the All-Star break, and he’s won once since June 17. He has allowed at least six earned runs four times this year, three of those coming in his past five starts."
Nova's ERA has jumped 0.73 due to the 16 earned runs he's allowed in his last two starts. This is a man that entered the All-Star break with a sub 4.00 ERA and six out of seven quality starts—several of them coming against the best teams in baseball. What's gone wrong?
Nova is most likely going through what all professional athletes go through at some point in a season or in their career: a slump. Nova has an excellent arsenal of pitches and his fastball sits in the mid-90s. When he's on, hitters are often left off-balance wondering if his sharp slider, curve ball or rising two-seamer is coming at them.
Rick Sutcliffe even suggested during ESPN's Monday night telecast—as Nova was being removed from the game by Joe Girardi—that the 25-year-old Dominican may need to go down to Triple-A to regain his confidence.
That sounds like a sharp appraisal and likely not the right solution for now but not one that is entirely out of the question considering the Yankees' aspirations and Nova's performance of late.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi is at a loss but he's also not willing to pull Ivan Nova out of the rotation and he quickly dismissed the notion following last night's loss.
"This a guy who has won a lot of ballgames for us."
A player who the Yankees are counting on to start winning more games for them—and soon. New York enters play Tuesday leading the American League East by five and a half games, though they've been slumping of late. The Yankees are 6-11 since July 19th and looking a bit wobbly entering the dog days of summer.
Ivan Nova will need to turn things around if the Yankees hope to hold onto first place and if he hopes to cling to a spot in the Yankees playoff rotation. Assuming Andy Pettitte comes back healthy, Nova will be fighting for the fourth starter spot with a resurgent Phil Hughes. For now, the Yankees need him to step up more than ever. Here's why.
Lack of Depth in the Starting Rotation
David Phelps has been great but likely will finish the year in the bullpen.
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Right now, it's anybody's guess as to who is the next man up if the Yankees need a starter in a pinch. For a large portion of the season, Freddy Garcia and David Phelps were the replacements to fill that void. Now, Garcia is the fifth starter in the Yankees rotation—due to the Pettitte injury—and David Phelps is in a more traditional long-man role in the Yankees bullpen.
Phelps was sent down to Double-A to get stretched out earlier in the summer and dominated in the minors before coming back up to the big league club. He now hasn't thrown more than three innings since the middle of July with most of his appearances coming in one or two inning stints. The Yankees will likely not want to re-stretch Phelps out and risk injuring one of their promising youngsters.
Before the season the Yankees' starting rotation depth was viewed as one of their biggest strengths. After losing Michael Pineda to a season ending shoulder injury and trading away AJ Burnett, the Bronx Bombers never came to enjoy the luxury of a stockpile of starters. Inexplicably, Burnett has been dominating the National League pitching to the best ERA of his 14-year career.
There's very little help in the bare cupboard of Triple-A. Adam Warren was given a test run earlier in the summer but that did not end well. Barring a waiver trade acquisition, the Yankees simply don't have a replacement better than Nova. Given Nova's track record he certainly deserves the opportunity to turn things around.
The Offense Is Not as Sharp
Alex Rodriguez should be out for a total of two months.
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The Yankees have had their share of scoring outbursts lately but they've been just that—outbursts. The Yankees hit their stride mid-season reeling off 43 consecutive games scoring three runs or more. Since the loss in Oakland on July 19, the Yankees have six games of scoring two runs or less.
Unsurprisingly, they've lost all six games.
The Yankees miss Alex Rodriguez more than most fans thought they would. The lineup has shown a glaring lack of consistency over the past several weeks and the Bombers haven't been getting on base at their regular clip.
Nagging injuries to Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher haven't helped matters either. Ichiro had his first game in pinstripes last night without a hit though he's hardly been a highly productive anchor at the bottom of the batting order.
The Yankees decided to pass on making a trade for a bigger bat at the deadline. They may still make a move this month via waivers to bolster their hitting.
The Bullpen Cannot Afford to Be Taxed Heading into the Stretch Run
Yankees reliever Boone Logan hopes to remain fresh for the stretch run.
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The Yankees have gotten great length from their starting rotation in 2012. Yankee starting pitchers have thrown the ninth most innings of any rotation in the majors. Conversely, due to the longevity of their starters, the bullpen has not overworked and the results have been fantastic. The Yankees bullpen has the seventh best ERA in baseball.
The goal moving forward is to keep their bullpen arms fresh and the Yankees would strongly prefer to see ace CC Sabathia and 37-year-old revelation Hiroki Kuroda continue pounding the strike zone and working deep into games. Phil Hughes has provided New York with very solid starts working well past the sixth inning.
It's on Nova to rebound and make better pitches. His last start of seven innings or more was June 28 against Chicago.
Yankees Lose Long Term Due to Perception They Don't Produce Good Starters
After Andy Pettitte, over the last 17 years, the Yanks' haven't produced many solid starters.
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During the last 17 years, the Yankees haven't exactly had a great track record with home grown starting pitchers. While the Bombers have produced a borderline Hall of Famer in Andy Pettitte, the rest of the products have been lackluster at best.
Ivan Nova is viewed by many as the best farm-raised pitcher that the Yankees have reared over the past 17 years since Pettitte. Chien-Ming Wang enjoyed more success with the Yankees than Nova has to date but because of Nova's big, physical make-up and overpowering stuff, he's viewed as having a brighter future in the Bronx.
Nova has improved in the strikeout department this year, demonstrating by far the best strikeout/per nine innings (K/9) ratio of his career. Nova currently sports a 8.07 K/9, which puts him at 36th best among all major league pitchers.
For some perspective, the starting pitcher he faced last night, Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, is at 8.86 K/9. Verlander is also considered to be the best pitcher in the game.
The point is, Nova's stuff has generally appeared better and he's striking out more batters. But any regression in performance makes Yankees fans wonder how could a player with such immense talent struggle so much at times?
And it makes opposing teams and general managers wonder a lot about Yankees starting pitching. Namely, whether other teams should consider dealing for a prized pitching prospect from the Bombers' farm system, considering the team simply hasn't produced many quality starters at all.
Nova's struggles only heightens the perception that the Yankees have done a poor job of managing and cultivating their young pitchers. Fair or not.