The Starting Pitching ProblemBy
The Yankees won the game, but Ivan Nova turned in another poor start last night. It was the fifth time he’s allowed at least five runs in his last seven starts, raising his season rates to a 5.60 ERA and a 5.00 FIP. The homer by Mark Trumbo and the double by Mike Trout were the 39th and 40th extra-base hits he’s allowed, respectively, the most in the game and just 12 fewer than last year even though he’s faced 426 fewer hitters. Between Nova and Phil Hughes — 5.64 ERA and 5.04 FIP — the Yankees have been fighting an uphill battle twice every five day.
Nova’s problem continues to be his command and propensity to miss up and out over the plate, a problem that was evident in Spring Training. We’re ten starts and 62.2 innings into the regular season now, we’re starting to reach the point where something has to be done. Most guys with Nova’s numbers find themselves back in Triple-A and frankly, the Yankees sent him down for less last season. It doesn’t have to happen today, but the time to seriously consider a demotion is fast approaching.
With David Robertson expected to return soon — he’s slated to throw off a mound on Saturday for the first time since suffering his oblique strain — the Yankees will be getting some much quality bullpen depth back. His return will make it easier for them to temporarily slide David Phelps into the rotation since they won’t need him in the higher leveraged role he’s been working the last two or three weeks. Heck, you can make an argument that Ramon Ortiz would be a better stopgap starter. He’s been great in Triple-A lately and they might be able to squeeze a few decent starts out of him against NL clubs during the upcoming interleague schedule before casting him aside.
Anyway, this isn’t about punishing Nova or anything like that. It’s about getting him back on track as soon as possible so he can help the team win for the stretch drive. The longer they wait to take action, the more Bad Ivan starts they’ll get and they can’t really afford that given the ultra-competitive AL East. Hughes obviously deserves the same treatment, but a) I think Nova is far more likely to rebound, and b) I’m not sure they have to rotation depth to send both guys down simultaneously. Nova took his demotion like a champ last season and came back a better pitcher for it, so I’m hopeful the same will happen in this case.
They say the first third of the season if for evaluation, the second third is for making changes, and the final third is for riding those changes out. Well, we’re exactly four team games shy of the one-third point of the campaign, and the time to make changes is fast approaching. The Yankees can give Nova another start or two to show improvement before Robertson returns to shore up the bullpen, but if things don’t start to turn around soon, they’re going to have to do something. Getting Nova back to being the pitcher we know he can be is a top priority. The sooner he gets back on track the better, but at some point the Yankees have to determine if the solution to their rotation woes is in-house before the trade deadline approaches.