Ivan Nova takes the mound tonight in the Bronx.
In the Yankees' world these days, good health is hardly anything to take for granted. But if we're willing to live in a fantasy world for a moment and employ ceteris paribus, or hold all things constant with good health, the Yankees have to be pleased with the performance of their top three starting pitchers so far.
If CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda can avoid the injury bug, the Yankees will have a very formidable trio atop their rotation. It's those other pesky two slots in the starting rotation that are causing manager Joe Girardi and the Bombers' fans agita these days.
Between homegrown products Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, the Yankees are in a constant state of wonder and analysis attempting to figure out why their performance varies so greatly from month-to-month and even game-to-game during the course of the season.
In Hughes, the Yankees have a pitcher who seems to fit the description of a fourth or fifth starter reasonably well, particularly in the difficult environs of the American League East. At his best, Hughes is sharp, and can look like a top-of-the-rotation starter.
Will Ivan Nova pitch well enough to stay in the Yankees pitching rotation?
At his worst and even on average, Hughes can look dismal. His propensity to give up the long ball is well documented and on his bad days, his four-seam fastball is as straight as an arrow. In all likelihood, this is Hughes' final hurrah in pinstripes.
Hughes has bought himself more room for error due to his longer track record. Even last season, we saw the best and worst of Hughes, but his best is enough reason to believe he'll rebound from his early poor performances this season and show more of the pitcher we saw for the majority of last summer.
Nova has far less room for error given his track record. Nova arrived in New York in 2010 and has been a member of the starting rotation ever since. It may not seem that way at times, given Nova's inconsistency and the Yankees' proclivity to find spare parts and replacements at lightning speed.
Nova has tantalized fans with his pitcher's frame, high velocity and diverse enough arsenal of pitches to get major league batters out in big spots. He's pitched some excellent games for the Yankees at times and given his age and positive attitude, he gives just enough reason to believe he's turning the proverbial corner.
And then THUD, back he falls into mediocrity. It may be a toll the Yankees are simply unwilling to take much longer, perhaps starting as early as tonight. David Phelps is waiting in the wings and at nearly the same age as Nova, has shown more consistency at the big league level, though in far fewer opportunities.
Nova has started 63 games in his big league career and Phelps only 11. But Phelps has shown a calm about him and an ability to throw strikes and have fewer pitches hit out of the yard or even put in play for hits. Phelps' career batting average against (BAA) is .226 while Nova's is .273.
Most alarming about Nova is his peculiar variance in statistics from 2011 to 2012. To most, Nova's huge uptick in strikeouts, over a nearly identical number of starts and innings pitched, would normally mean greater success.
Actually, the exact opposite in Nova's case. His ERA jumped by precisely 1.33 last season and he gave up 28 home runs, up from 13 the year before. Nova has to find a rhythm and determine which pitches are most successful against certain hitters.
Part of that is location and part of that is strategy. Nova needs to add the two together and find the right mix this April. Otherwise, he could be on the outside looking in at the Yankees' rotation. That is of course, assuming all remains equal with good health.