The Yankees and Red Sox will renew their rivalry with a completely meaningless Spring Training game tonight, but meaningless only in terms of results. Boston will only play four regulars — Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Aviles, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia — and it doesn’t matter who wins and who loses. The game is more than meaningless for Ivan Nova though, who is making his third start of the spring.
“We are getting closer to [evaluation time],” said Joe Girardi yesterday. “You want to see some progress going into the third start. You take a hard look at the fourth and fifth starts … He struggled with [fastball command] the first couple [of starts] and that’s important to me,”
Nova, who just turned 25 in January, has allowed seven runs on seven hits and a walk in 4.2 IP during his first two exhibition starts, so the command problem isn’t showing up in the walk total. Nova’s been missing his spots and falling behind in the count, and hitters are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do when the pitchers make those mistakes. At this point it doesn’t really matter how command issue manifests itself, just that it exists and both the team and player are working to correct the problem.
“I am perfect in the bullpen, but I get [in a game] and try to do too much,” said Nova. “The fastball is a problem right now, but I know I will get it back … Hopefully, it will be there [tonight]. Whatever happens, happens.”
If you’re the worrying type, there is the matter of Nova’s strained flexor, the elbow injury that forced him out of Game Five of the ALDS last October. Elbow problems usually result in poor command while lack of velocity indicates shoulder issues. Nova is healthy, having rested his arm during the offseason and passing his pre-Spring Training physical. There are no reports of pain or soreness, and his velocity has been fine so the shoulder is apparently sound. He’s just fighting through a poor command phase at the moment, which is something that comes and goes for every pitcher during the course of the year.
Tonight’s game will be broadcast all over the place (YES, MLBN, MLB.tv, and even MLB.com), so we’ll get a chance to see Nova and his command in action. The results don’t matter on March 13th, the only thing that matters tonight is that he’s consistently hitting the target with his fastball and keeping his offspeed stuff down. If he starts to do that against the Sox tonight and continues to get better the next few times out before Opening Day, all will be well with the team’s projected third starter. If not, then Nova will just have to keep working on it and hope things click before the games start to count.