Ivan Nova Latest Pitcher Heading for Surgery, Yankees Struggle Filling Rotation

Will Carroll@injuryexpertSports Injuries Lead WriterApril 22, 2014

New York Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova is visited on the mound by infielders and manager Joe Girardi during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday, April 19, 2014, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

As important as it is to have a true ace—or two, if you're the New York Yankees—it's as important to go five deep, or deeper, in the modern game. While Masahiro Tanaka is shaping up very well, worth every penny the Yankees paid to put him in pinstripes alongside CC Sabathia, there's trouble at the back of the rotation. Ivan Nova was a solid back-of-the-rotation arm, but that arm failed, and Nova is heading for Tommy John surgery, as noted by Mark Feinsand.

Nova becomes just the latest major league pitcher to head for surgery. Feinsand notes that Nova would be the 15th, though this number doesn't include pitchers who are waiting for surgery, currently trying to rehab to avoid the surgery or minor leaguers who have had the surgery. 

Nova does have a significant injury history. He's been on the DL each of the last two seasons with arm problems and lacks control, but there were few signs that there was an impending injury. No one yet has a great "early warning system" for these kinds of injuries, but the few things we do know don't appear to be in play here. There was no sudden loss of control, there was no drop in release point and among some of my other proprietary methods, no red flags pop up. Maybe home runs allowed is a sign? 

With Chris Sale, many were pointing to a high pitch-count game (if 127 is high these days) as a causation. That certainly isn't the case with Nova. He had only gone 80 before he was removed and did not top 100 in any of his other three starts this season. In 2013, he never went higher than 112 while injuries held him under 140 innings on the year. 

Once Nova picks a surgeon and has the surgery, he will face nine to 12 months off as he rehabs his reconstructed elbow. Given the timing, he would be likely to return at or near the All-Star break next year, though it could be sooner. The Yankees do have a great track record with rehabs, and AT Mark Littlefield is one of the best at handling those, though his move to New York from the Tampa complex has taken some of his focus off that area.

The Yankees will go with Vidal Nuno in the rotation for now, but behind him, "la deluge." The Yankees have nothing great at Scranton, with arms like Alfredo Aceves and some organizational arms there. Jose Ramirez and Manny Banuelos aren't ready to contribute just yet, but another injury could force them up. With Michael Pineda looking solid so far, the Yankees have to hope that holds on well into the season.

Data courtesy Baseball Reference and Baseball Savant.