Tag:Ivan Nova
Posted on: October 1, 2011 11:32 pm

No need to argue; Yankees have the edge

NEW YORK -- Argue all you want about whether Friday night's rain helped the Yankees or the Tigers.

Saturday night, there was no need to argue.

Could this night have gone any better for the Yankees?

Ivan Nova looked like a real postseason starter -- even though he was technically pitching in relief. Robinson Cano looked like an MVP -- even though the fans were chanting "M-V-P" for Curtis Granderson.

In a series where Justin Verlander can likely now affect only one game, the Yankees are already ahead, one game to none, after Saturday's 9-3 rout (in a continuation of the game that began in  Friday's rain).

And in a series where there could now be four games in four days, Nova pitched so well (and the Yankees eventually scored so much) that manager Joe Girardi could avoid using almost all his top relievers. He shouldn't have had to use any of them, but after Nova got the Yankees to the ninth inning, Luis Ayala was so bad that Mariano Rivera had to get the final out.

Nova took over for Sabathia, who pitched two innings before the rain. Doug Fister took over for Verlander, who pitched one inning before the suspension. On this night, it was advantage Nova, and advantage Yankees.

No one is saying, one game into a long postseason, that the Yankees look unbeatable. No one is saying, one game into a short series, that the Tigers can't come back.

But in one game over two days, the Yankees grabbed a clear edge.

They reminded us how strong their lineup can be. They showed us that they have a starter other than CC Sabathia capable of throwing some shutout innings.

And they can win the series even if they never beat Verlander -- and if they lose another game, as well.

As for the Tigers, they'll look back on the moments when Game 1 turned against them.

Specifically, they'll wonder about third-base coach Gene Lamont's decision to send Alex Avila home on a one-out Jhonny Peralta single in the fifth inning. It was a 1-1 game at the time, Nova had begun looking a little vulnerable, and the Tigers could have had the bases loaded with one out.

Instead, the Yankees got a perfect relay from Curtis Granderson to Derek Jeter to Russell Martin, Avila was out at the plate, and the inning ended with the game still tied. The Yankees then took the lead in the bottom of the fifth on Cano's double off the wall.

The next decision came an inning later, when Fister was beginning to falter. Tigers manager Jim Leyland allowed him to face Granderson (who walked to load the bases), then brought in right-hander Al Alburquerque to face the left-handed hitting Cano.

Cano is basically immune to lefties (during the season, his OPS against right-handers was .884, vs. lefties .879), and Alburquerque was very, very good against left-handed hitters (.176).

Alburquerque hung a slider, Cano sent it soaring to the right-field seats for the Yankees' first postseason grand slam in 12 years (Ricky Ledee hit the last one), and rest of the game didn't matter.

Cano ended up with six RBI, tying a Yankee postseason record set in 1960 by Bobby Richardson and tied by Bernie Williams (1999) and Hideki Matsui (2009).

The Tigers ended up with a one game to none deficit.

And no one was talking about the rain.
Posted on: March 26, 2011 9:46 am
Edited on: March 26, 2011 9:58 am

Yankees set rotation with Nova, Garcia

The Yankees said Saturday that they'll begin the season with Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia in the starting rotation.

Fine, but what will the rotation look like at the end of the year? Or in the middle of the year?

You can say that about any team, but it's more of a pressing issue with the Yankees, who scrambled to regroup after Cliff Lee turned them down in December. They're still scrambling, even though they can feel good about the way some of their starters pitched this spring.

The Yankees actually had three decent options for the final two spots in the rotation, because Nova, Garcia and Bartolo Colon all pitched well at times this spring. So they'll keep all three, moving Colon to the bullpen to start the season.

Manager Joe Girardi said Friday that the Yankees think Colon's rotation, which was in the mid 90s this spring, might actually improve in the shorter stints needed in relief. Once the Yankees decided to keep all three pitchers (and traded Sergio Mitre to the Brewers), Colon became a natural choice for the bullpen, because it was thought that Garcia wouldn't fit there at all, and because there's a question about how many innings Colon will be able to pitch.

On the same day they traded Mitre, the Yankees gave themselves one more option by signing Kevin Millwood to a minor-league contract. Millwood can become a free agent if the Yankees don't bring him to the major leagues by May 1, but that gives the team another month to evaluate Millwood (who will go to Triple-A Scranton), but also to see if what they saw from Garcia and Colon this spring was real.

Colon had a 2.40 ERA in four spring starts. Garcia's ERA was 5.93, but he pitched better than that. The 24-year-old Nova was very good this spring, with a 1.80 ERA in five appearances.

While the Yankees spent all spring working on the back end of the rotation, their success will likely depend more on how the pitchers at the top of the rotation perform. There are questions behind ace CC Sabathia, with A.J. Burnett coming off an awful 2010 season, and Phil Hughes' velocity down significantly this spring (from the low 90s last year, to 87-89 mph this spring).

The other huge question, of course, is whether the Yankees will find a big-time starter to trade for at midseason.

"They'll just go get Felix Hernandez," said one scout who followed the Yankees.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik maintains that he won't deal Hernandez, but other top starters will likely become available. In just the last couple of years, Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Dan Haren have all been traded.

Chances are, someone like that will be traded this year, too. And that's why it's easy to think the rotation that the Yankees set on Saturday won't be the one you see by the end of the season.
Posted on: February 4, 2011 1:51 pm
Edited on: February 4, 2011 1:57 pm

The $200 million question

The Yankees aren't the only team that enters spring training with huge questions unanswered.

The Yankees are the only team with $200 million to spend -- and a $200 million question.

Money doesn't guarantee you success. But shouldn't this much money guarantee that you don't reach Feb. 4 -- 10 days before pitchers and catchers report -- with this shaky a starting rotation?

Cliff Lee says no, Andy Pettitte says no, and now the Yankees are left with this?

"Our starting rotation's not where it needs to be right now," general manager Brian Cashman admitted at Friday's Pettitte retirement press conference. "I'm up for the challenge."

Sorry, but the challenge began last October, when Pettitte said he left Rangers Ballpark after Game 6 feeling like "I was done." Or the challenge began before that, because it's been clear for a while that the Yankees' strong crop of pitching prospects might be arrive as quickly as the need for reinforcements would arise.

Maybe Cashman should have used the weight of his huge offer to Lee and pushed for a decision earlier. He admits now that by waiting so long for Lee, the Yankees found other options closed off.

Maybe Cashman should have been willing to rework the proposed trade for Lee last July, because maybe after half a year in New York Lee would have been open to staying.

Maybe if Lee had said yes, then Pettitte would have been more interested in returning to a team that would have been one of the favorites to go to (and win) the World Series.

Instead, the Yankees have this: a strong but heavily-worked top two of CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, a completely unreliable No. 3 of A.J. Burnett (coming off an historically bad season), and then a mix of candidates for the fourth and fifth spots that would be more suited for a team with a $70 million budget: young Ivan Nova, middle-aged Sergio Mitre and old Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.

Could they trade for Felix Hernandez? Unlikely. A Yankee official said bluntly: "They're not trading him."

Could they get by for half a season and hope that some other top-level starter hits the market? Sure they could, but that's not a great option for a team that regards anything short of a World Series win as a lost season.

As for the free agents or trade targets they could get right now (Kevin Millwood, Joe Blanton, for example), would adding either of those really answer that $200 million question?

The obvious answer is no. Spring training is 10 days away, the Yankee rotation "is not where it needs to be," and there are no obvious answers.

And still no Plan B behind Cliff Lee.

Posted on: January 13, 2011 5:35 pm
Edited on: January 13, 2011 9:13 pm

Are the Yankees in trouble?

Three years ago, the Yankees began the season with two unproven starters in their rotation.

And maybe it's no coincidence that the 2008 season was the only one in the last 16 that ended with the Yankees out of the playoffs. Or that the Yankees reacted to that failure by throwing nearly $250 million at their rotation that winter.

So now here we are, with spring training a month away and with the throw-money-at-it plan not having worked nearly as well. Here we are, a month after Cliff Lee shunned and stunned the Yankees by signing with the Phillies, and we understand even more why even Yankee officials always admitted that this winter included no real Plan B.

Here we are, thinking more and more with each passing day that maybe Andy Pettitte really doesn't want to pitch this year -- although still not knowing for sure.

Here we are, looking at a Yankee rotation that for now includes two unproven starters (Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre, perhaps, behind CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and the always undependable A.J. Burnett), and with seemingly no significant starters available as free agents or in trades.

By adding Rafael Soriano to Mariano Rivera, the Yankees might be assembling a bullpen that reminds you of 1996, when Rivera was setting up John Wetteland in the first title of this two-decade run. But you wonder if it's a bigger problem that their rotation reminds you of 2008, when those two unproven starters (Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy) combined to go 0-8 with a 7.51 ERA in their 17 starts?

Are the Yankees in trouble?

Maybe not, but when you're the Yankees, with $200 million-plus committed every year, and with an organizational philosophy that regards anything shy of a title as failure, can you take the chance that it is?

I wrote yesterday that I fully understand the low-budget Rays taking chances. I'm writing today that it's a whole lot tougher to accept that when it's the big-money Yankees (although I'm not sure where they'd go to find a proven starter now).

By all accounts, the Yankees have quite a bit of young talent in their minor-league system. One scout who follows the Yankee system closely said he'd have no problem relying on the kids right now.

"They have two or three guys in the minors who could pitch in the big leagues right now, and I'm talking besides Nova," the scout said. "They have three other guys just waiting for a shot. If I worked there, I'd be pushing for them, instead of Mitre.

"Nova will be fine as a fourth starter."

That may be true, but Nova won just one of his seven starts last year (although the Yankees won five of the seven games). Mitre has never had more than five wins in a big-league season.

As for those kids the scout mentioned, Dellin Betances and Manuel Banuelos have each made just three starts above Class A, while Adam Warren has just 10.

"If this were a team like the Indians, yeah, you could let them learn on the job," said another rival scout, who also likes the young Yankee starters. "But they can't do that. The Yankees have a lot of young players, but you wonder how they can fit them in while they're trying to win, and also how they'll live with the mistakes that all young players make.

"They had enough trouble living with [Robinson] Cano's mistakes early, and he's a great talent."

The Yankees have other issues, most notably an aging group of position players ("The third baseman is getting older, and the first baseman is getting older fast ," the first scout said).

But the biggest issue this year is still exactly what it was when the winter began, and that's the starting rotation.

Remember, each of the last two Octobers, the Yankees had just three starting pitchers that they wanted to count on, when you really need four.

And each of those years, one of those three dependable starters was named Andy Pettitte.

There was no Plan B behind Cliff Lee. If we didn't know that a month ago, we sure know it now.

Is there also no Plan B behind Andy Pettitte?

Posted on: August 22, 2010 5:47 pm

3 to watch: The Home sweet home edition

The American League playoff races are in danger of becoming runaways, with the Rangers far ahead in the West, the Twins opening a gap on the White Sox in the Central and the Yankees and Rays holding good leads over the Red Sox for the East and wild-card leads.

What's a lot harder to determine -- and maybe almost as important -- is how those four teams would match up come October.

Will it be Yankees-Twins and Rays-Rangers? Or Yankees-Rangers and Rays-Twins? And who has home-field advantage?

Heading into play Sunday, the Twins were 2 1/2 games better than the Rangers. The team with the better record at the end of the season will open the playoffs at home, against the wild-card winner (as of Sunday morning, the Yankees led the Rays by one game). The team with the worse record likely opens on the road, against the East winner (since both the Yankees and Rays are likely to finish with better record than the Rangers and Twins).

Here's why it may matter: Counting last October, the Twins are 1-11 in New York since the start of 2008. Over the same span, they're 5-6 at Tropicana Field.

The Rangers, meanwhile, are below .500 on the road this year (including three straight losses in New York, and three straight at Tampa Bay). They're 39-23 at home. The Twins have also been much better at home (39-22, vs. 32-30 on the road).

You've got to believe that the Yankees would prefer to play an opening five-game series against the Twins, who don't have a dominating No. 1 starter, than against the Rangers, with Cliff Lee (who won twice for the Phillies in the 2009 World Series).

Keep all that in mind as the Twins play four games this week in Texas.

On to 3 to watch:

1. The Yankees used just three starting pitchers in the postseason last year, and they won in large part because those three (CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte) were so good. Now two of those three are question marks, with Pettitte still on the disabled list with a groin injury and Burnett going 0-3 with a 6.08 ERA in four starts this month. With Javier Vazquez struggling with a lack of velocity, the Yankee rotation looks a lot less formidable, which is one reason it will be interesting to see how Ivan Nova does, in Yankees at Blue Jays, Monday night (7:07 ET) at the Rogers Centre . Nova, a 23-year-old right-hander who is considered the Yanks' top pitching prospect, was 12-3 with a 2.86 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Jays aren't an easy opening opponent, especially at home, where they've hit a major-league leading 103 home runs in 55 games.

2. When Zack Greinke won the AL Cy Young Award last year, it was supposedly an indication that voters no longer care about how many wins a pitcher has (Greinke had 16; runner-up Felix Hernandez had 19). But what does that mean for Hernandez, who has a 9-10 record this year but otherwise has credentials to be legit Cy candidate (including a 1.54 ERA in his last 14 starts)? Hernandez gets another good chance to make his case, in Mariners at Red Sox, Wednesday afternoon (1:35 ET) at Fenway Park . His opponent is Jon Lester, whose own Cy chances had to take a big hit when he allowed nine runs to the Blue Jays on Friday night.

3. Lee's Cy chances have taken a hit recently, too, as he's 0-2 with an 8.24 ERA in his last three starts. His next start comes in Twins at Rangers, Thursday night (8:05 ET) at Rangers Ballpark , and you can bet someone will mention that the Twins also tried to trade for Lee this year. Francisco Liriano starts Thursday for the Twins, which is appropriate, since if there's a Twins pitcher who has a chance to be a true No. 1, he's it.

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