Ivan Nova: What Having a True No. 2 Does to Yankees' Chances for a Pennant
Nova pitched from the top of the third all the way through the ninth, allowing just four hits and two runs. He finished the night with a 2.80 ERA, and his performance drew a standing ovation from the hard-to-please Yankee faithful. He was a big part of the Yankees' 9-3 win over the Detroit Tigers, which gives the Bronx Bombers a series lead going into Sunday afternoon's game.
While having an ace like Sabathia is key to a good playoff run, having a solid No. 2 starter is also important. Nova proved this last night, and his performance does good things to the Yankees' chances of going far into the playoffs.
Here are five reasons how Nova will benefit the Yankees going forward, which in turn, will help them in the pennant race.
He Has Confidence
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An MLB postseason debut is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences a rookie can go through. Every game counts, and the brighter stadium lights and the cheers (or jeers) of the crowd can make it hard to focus on the task at hand.
But if Nova was nervous last night, it did not show. He had good control of the ball and was very composed on the mound. The Yankees did run out to a substantial lead, but if things were to stop going Nova's way, I can't see how he would have had a meltdown.
Going into Game 1, he had some confidence as a result of his regular season performance. In 28 regular season games, he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA while pitching 98 strikeouts.
After last night, he earned the approval of his teammates and the Yankees fans. Nova learned that he can handle pitching in New York in the postseason.
His confidence will help the Yankees because he knows he can get wins if he just keeps his mind to it. When a pitcher is confident, his teammates will be too, and that will help them be at their best going forward.
He Comes Through in the Clutch
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When last night's game resumed, the Yankees and Tigers were tied at 1-1. The Yankees had tied the game on Friday after giving up a Detroit run in the first inning, but in order to stay in the game, they needed a strong pitching performance.
As evidenced by his stats (see previous slide), Nova gave that performance. He was up against Doug Fister, a pitcher who had been in the league since 2009 as a member of the Seattle Mariners and the Tigers. Fister had more professional experience, but like Nova, he had never been to the playoffs.
Fister faltered, taking the loss and posting an 11.57 ERA.
Meanwhile, Nova, the rookie who had only pitched 10 major league games in 2010, stepped up when his team needed him. He came through to carry the Yankees to the win they were hoping for to get started on the right foot, and he also had to come in earlier than originally planned.
Nova joins a group of current Yankees who have come up big in the playoffs in the past: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Robinson Cano are some of Nova's teammates who all know what it takes to win in the postseason. This gives the Yankees more experience, which is a much-talked-about part of any MLB playoff matchup.
He Won't Have the Monkey on His Back
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This kind of ties in to the first slide, where we looked at how Nova's confidence will help the Yankees in their pennant race.
Nova got his first postseason win last night, which means he hit the milestone early in his October career. Since he is already 1-0 in the playoffs, he will not have to go out on the field with as much pressure as he did last night.
Sure, as the playoffs wear on, the games get more intense. Plus, this is New York, where it's World Series or bust. With that in mind, Nova will be facing more pressure to perform and win.
But I think it will be different for him. He will not be on the mound as a struggling rookie pitcher. His mind won't be racing with everything that is keeping him from winning and how he can fix that.
The Yankees will be better for this, too. Since they are a strong group of teammates, they no doubt were happy for Nova on Saturday, both that he came up big for them and that he got the first win. They can focus on putting their opponents away behind a pitcher who knows what he's doing. They'll know he's already done this once, so he can do it again. They won't have to dodge questions about Nova's struggles.
This can only help, because as we know, too much focus on one player can take away from a team's common goal during the playoffs.
Having a No. 2 Will Put Opponents Down Early
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Nova will be second in the rotation behind ace C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia has a career postseason record of 7-4 with an ERA of 4.65. With the Yankees, he has a 5-1 record over nine games.
If Nova can continue performing like he did on Saturday, opponents will be sweating. No one wants to face Sabathia as it is. But can you imagine how teams will react when they learn Nova will be coming next rather than the incosistent Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia?
Nova may still have the rookie label, but opponents should not think they will get past him easily. If they are caught thinking so, the duo of Sabathia and Nova will quickly knock them down a couple of pegs. This gives the Yankees a quick advantage in any series, making it easier to eliminate their opposition and move on to the next round on plenty of rest.
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By pitching six and a third innings in Game 1, Nova showed he can be relied on to pitch for long stretches.
This is something that more experienced pitchers in Bartolo Colon and A.J. Burnett did not prove often during the regular season. Colon has been removed from games as early as the third inning, while Burnett has been pulled in the fifth.
Also, Nova has been healthy during his rookie year. Again, this is something other pitchers did not show. Phil Hughes suffered back and arm problems, Colon had a hamstring injury and even Burnett dealt with some muscle stiffness.
Nova's ability to go long stretches will be an asset because he has control of the game. His control will keep the bullpen fresh because Joe Girardi won't have to call for a new pitcher every inning. If Nova can avoid the injury bug, the Yankees won't have to worry about being down a starter. They can continue sending out their best possible lineup rather than something that resembles a minor league team.
With Nova at his best, anything is possible when he is named the starter, including a journey to the World Series.
Alison Myers is covering the 2011 MLB Playoffs for Bleacher Report and is also an NHL Featured Columnist. E-mail her with any comments, questions or writing opportunities at firstname.lastname@example.org or request a follow on Twitter.