The easy to forget but still really important Ivan Nova

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since Spring Training officially opened last week, all eyes have been on Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia. Well, at least the eyes that weren’t glued to Alex Rodriguez‘s every step. Tanaka and Sabathia are by far the biggest pitching stories in camp since they are both being counted on as rotation anchors and are coming off pretty serious injuries. It has not yet been a week, but so far, so good with those two.

Early in the morning yesterday, before Sabathia threw his second bullpen session of his spring, rehabbing righty Ivan Nova was at the team’s complex throwing his third bullpen as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. It was a relatively light throwing session — 25 pitches, all fastballs — and he’ll likely throw another all fastball bullpen before introducing offspeed pitches. When the team breaks camp in early-April, Nova will stay behind to continue rehabbing in Tampa.

The Yankees have taken it very slow with Nova’s rehab so far — he had surgery in late-April, and according to Mike Dodd’s classic Tommy John surgery rehab article, Nova should have been throwing bullpens by October or November — and that is by design. A lot of pitchers have rushed back from elbow reconstruction in the last year or two only to need another procedure almost immediately. Cory Luebke and Daniel Hudson didn’t even complete the rehab from the first surgery when they blew out their elbows again. Brandon Beachy made it back for 30 innings. The Yankees are playing it safe.

“One good thing, you know you’re not going to be ready in April,” said Nova to Chad Jennings yesterday. “So you prepare yourself to be ready whenever they tell me. I don’t have to be thinking right now that I’ve got to be ready in April, so that’s kind of fortunate. I’m just taking it day by day, and I know that — I believe — a month before they think I’m going to be ready to go to the big leagues, they’re going to tell me. So that’s the time when I’m going to really prepare for that day.”

Because he’s been out of action for so long — Nova made only four starts last season before getting hurt — it’s been pretty easy to forget he exists. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. That doesn’t make him any less important to the team, however. The Yankees have a risky rotation led by Tanaka and Sabathia, so getting Nova back healthy at midseason will be a boost to the starting staff. Hopefully an extra boost, not a “oh goodness we need him back as soon as possible” sort of boost.

Last year Jeff Zimmerman ran some numbers on performance before and after Tommy John surgery and confirmed that yeah, pitchers tend to struggle immediately after having their elbow ligament replaced. Their ERA increases 5.8% relative to projections, their walk rate increases 5.0%, and their strikeout rate drops 4.4%. It’s not until two years after surgery that they really get back to being themselves. Using that info, here’s a quick and dirty look at Nova’s projected performance for 2015:

ERA K% BB%
2013 Actual Performance 3.10 19.8% 7.5%
2014 Actual Performance 8.27 12.5% 6.3%
2015 ZiPS Projection 4.08 19.6% 7.2%
2015 ZiPS + TJS Penalty 4.32 18.7% 7.6%

Nova has been a perfectly league average pitcher overall so far in his career (career 100 ERA+!) though it’s been a roller coaster. He’s had some great years and some really bad years, including his brief four-start cameo in 2014. ZiPS, unsurprisingly, pegs him as a true talent league average pitcher for this coming season (99 ERA+) but it doesn’t know he had his elbow rebuild. Add in the Tommy John surgery penalty from Zimmerman’s research and he’s a projected below average pitcher, more like a 93 ERA+ guy.

What does that mean? Not a whole lot, really. I just think it’s important to remember the road back from Tommy John surgery can initially be a little bumpy. Pitchers on average have seen a slight performance dip, but each pitcher is a little snowflake that is different than everyone else. Thanks to the team’s conservative approach to his rehab, Nova could shake off the usual pre-Tommy John issues and return in June, picking up right where he left off in 2013. That would be sweet. Or maybe the performance dip hits him extra hard. We’ll find out when he gets back.

Personally, I hate relying on players coming back from major injury, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. New York’s rotation is what it is and I am comfortable saying with great certainty they are looking for upgrades at all times. Hopefully one pop up at some point. “Chris Capuano, fifth starter” is really “Chris Capuano, just keep us afloat until something better comes along.” That sometime just might end up being when Nova returns in May or June (likely June). Hopefully not, but it’s possible.

“I know they expect big things from me,” said Nova to Bryan Hoch yesterday. “I know I’ve had an up and down career so far, but I know what I’m able to do. I just have to put things straight and hopefully by the time I have everything in line, I can contribute to the team and win some games.”

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Girardi’s Press Conference Notes: A-Rod, Rotation, Spring Competitions

Spring Training is officially underway. Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa today and the first actual workout is scheduled for tomorrow. Plenty of players have already been down at the complex working out for days if not weeks.

Joe Girardi held his annual start of Spring Training press conference this morning, and, as you can imagine, there were a ton of Alex Rodriguez question. But thankfully, there were some actual baseball questions too. It was a nice change of pace. “Name tags are an option,” joked Girardi because of all the new players in camp.

Video of the press conference is above. Here’s an abridged version and some thoughts.

On A-Rod

  • On the apology letter: “A person’s approach is the way they feel most comfortable doing it, whether that’s how you or me or anyone else would have done it … I think he apologized to the game. Steroids have hurt this game. It has changed the way we look at a lot of things … (The apology) was Alex’s choice and it was the way he was comfortable doing it and we’ll deal with it.”
  • On balancing workload and preparation: “I think you’re talking about him possibly DHing on a lot of days in Spring Training. That’s not quite as taxing as playing everyday in the field. He’s going to need to get his a-bats.”
  • On possibly playing first base: “That will be a conversation I have when he gets here. I want to see his face (and his reaction). He said he’s willing to do whatever he can to help us.”
  • On expectations: “I haven’t really put any numbers on it. I said this earlier: I think it’s fair to give him a fair number of at-bats before you start to judge where he might be at just because he’s played 44 games in two years and did not play last year, and I think it’s going to take him a good part of Spring Training just to get his timing down.”
  • On being a distraction: “One of the things I learned in 1996 when I came here is this is a different place. It’s different when you put on a New York Yankees uniform. You are with one of the most recognizable companies in the world. That’s part of the gig here … For the new players that are here, they’re going to get it right away … If you’re with the New York Yankees you need to learn how to deal with situations like that.”

Girardi also said the Yankees could opt to send A-Rod to minor league camp some days so he could get more work in. Minor league camp is pretty informal, he could leadoff every inning and get way more at-bats then he could in regular Grapefruit League games. Long story short, Girardi has no idea what to expect from Alex on the field and they need to see him in camp before finalizing any plans.

These press conferences are usually a little light and upbeat, especially early in Spring Training, but Girardi seemed pretty serious when asked about A-Rod being a distraction. His answer about players needing to be able to deal with it while playing for the Yankees was firm. He didn’t beat around the bush. Girardi knows it’s going to be a distraction and he expects his players to deal with it like professionals.

On Priorities In Camp

  • The rotation: “I think getting the rotation ironed out, seeing how all these guys fit and how it affects the bullpen guys who will begin Spring Training as a starting pitcher, who can possibly push their way into the rotation.”
  • The lineup: “Figuring out our batting order I think is something important. There’s some people we don’t know exactly where they’re at.” (Meaning A-Rod, physically.)
  • Picking a closer and possibly using co-closers: “I think you could do that. Would you like to iron it out? Sure. I think you have to see how people react in those situations. A number of guys I think are capable of closing, but I think (both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller) are more than capable.”
  • Competition in general: “I think there’s probably a little more open competition (than most years). I’ll try to reiterate to our players on a constant basis you’re not going to impress me the first day of camp, not going to impress me first week of camp.”

Girardi mentioned most of the competition in camp will be for specific roles and not necessarily roster spots. Aside from the last bullpen spot, the roster is mostly set right now. They have just to figure out who goes where in terms of the batting order and bullpen, specifically.

These are the sort of things that can’t be ironed out until the very end of camp too. Early on, players need to get their timing back and get back into the swing of playing. They’re not — or shouldn’t be, anyway — trying to put up big numbers the first few weeks of camp. After a few weeks of games the coaching staff will be better able to slot people into roles. Right now, they have to focus on getting ready. Late-March is when Girardi has to put together the roster puzzle.

On The Rotation

  • On CC Sabathia: “Until you really get him into the rigors of pitching every fifth day, and possibly going three or four turns on regular rest, you’re not really sure how that knee is going to fare. We feel good about it and we feel good about where he’s at.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka: “I think you can say the same thing about Tanaka. What he’s went through is not really uncommon. There have been a lot of pitchers who have pitched a substantial amount of time (with the same injury) before something had to happen.”
  • On keeping tabs on Tanaka in the offseason: “They would communicate through (head trainer) Stevie Donohue. I would keep in contact with Stevie and see how Masahiro was doing. Its difficult because he’s not pitching in games in the offseason. A lot of us feel great in the offseason. It’s the second week in camp we start to feel sore.”
  • On Nathan Eovaldi: “We expect him to be one of our starters and be extremely productive and mature as a pitcher and develop as a pitcher. (He’s a guy) who can be a workhorse for you and give you valuable innings. We expect him to be a big part of our rotation.”
  • On a potential six-man rotation: “It’s something that we will talk about. As far as having a six-man rotation all the time, no. But if you get into long situations where you play 18 games in a row, could we inject a (sixth starter) to give the guys extra rest. Absolutely.”

Girardi also mentioned they are pleased with Ivan Nova‘s progress during his rehab from Tommy John surgery and there are no restrictions for Tanaka’s spring work. He’ll prepare like any other season. He didn’t say if the same is true for Sabathia because no one asked.

It was pretty clear from his tone that Girardi knows there is a lot of injury risk in the rotation and guys might not make it through camp in one piece. He also seems to know it’s pretty much out of his hands. The team followed doctor’s orders with Tanaka and Sabathia and if they say they’re healthy, they have to proceed accordingly. I like the idea of mixing in the occasional sixth starter earlier in the season much better than a straight up six-man rotation too.

Miscellany

  • On leadership without Derek Jeter: “I think within a clubhouse you can have one person who is considered the leader, but I think there are fractions of that as well (meaning a bullpen leader, a rotation leader, etc.) … I think you’ll have guys step up in different areas. I think there’s enough veteran presence and leadership qualities that guys will just handle it.”
  • On expectations: “I think you come into Spring Training every year with the goal to win and be the best you can be as a club. There are a lot of things we need to iron out. Probably more than I can remember. Some of it because of injury and some of it because of new faces. I think this team has a chance to be really good.”
  • On other teams in the AL East: “Oh I think you obviously pay attention to what other teams are doing. What you realize over a 162-game schedule is there’s a lot of things that have to go right for you to be the winner at the end … Sometimes just everything pretty much goes according to plan.”

Yeah, the Yankees are due for one of those years where everything goes pretty much according to plan.

Injury Updates: Tanaka, Sabathia, Nova, Bailey, Heathcott, Barbato, Hensley

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Here are some injury updates with pitchers and catchers only ten days away from reporting to Tampa for the start of Spring Training 2015. The updates come courtesy of Brad Lefton, Dan Martin, Chad Jennings, and the Associated Press.

  • Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) adjusted his usual offseason program and has not been throwing with as much intensity as he had in the past. “Right from the beginning of camp last year, all the pitchers were throwing in the bullpen, but they were just easing into it, so there’s really no reason for me to push myself to throw full throttle before I even get there this time,” he said.
  • CC Sabathia (knee) is working out and throwing regularly at Yankee Stadium. “I don’t think we have anything to worry about how his arm works or how his knee works. Not anymore,” said Brian Cashman. Sabathia is expected to be a healthy player come the start of Spring Training.
  • Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) has been throwing on flat ground and recently said his elbow feels great. He should start throwing off a mound very soon if he hasn’t already. Nova is currently on track to rejoin the team in June after having surgery late last April.
  • Andrew Bailey (shoulder) is expected to be a healthy and active pitcher in Spring Training. He missed all of last season following shoulder capsule surgery. “He’s in a throwing program, and there’s been nothing adverse reported from him,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler.
  • Slade Heathcott (knee) is also expected to be fully healthy for Spring Training. He had knee surgery last offseason and another one in June. “His progressions are moving forward really positively. The last checkup we had, he’s able to do full baseball activities, it’s just (a question of) how regular and how long of a duration,” said Eppler.
  • Johnny Barbato (elbow) is healthy and will start the season on time after missing the second half of 2014 with an elbow strain. “He was cleared and good to go,” said Eppler while noting Barbato healed up in time to pitch in Instructional League for the Padres last fall. The Yankees acquired Barbato in the Shawn Kelley trade.
  • And finally, Ty Hensley (face) has already resumed throwing bullpen sessions after he was viciously attacked during the holidays, according to his Twitter feed. Hensley’s jaw had to be wired shut due to the attack so he’ll likely lose some weight. He might have to rebuild some strength before the Yankees turn him loose this summer.

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 17-19

Over these next two weeks we’re going to subjectively rank and analyze every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — based on their short and long-term importance to the team — and you’re inevitably going to disagree with our rankings. We’ve already covered Nos. 20-25, 26-31, and 32-40.

Mitchell.. (Presswire)
Mitchell.. (Presswire)

As we jump into the top half of our 40-man roster rankings, we are now looking at players who are projected to have significant roles with the 2015 Yankees as well as the 2016 and beyond Yankees. At least most of the time. There is still one exception to the “significant role with the 2015 Yankees” thing and we’ll cover him today.

Today we’re going to cover spots 17 through 19, which include two starters who are not expected to start the year in rotation, but seem likely to wind up there come the second half. The other spot belongs to the team’s best prospect on the 40-man roster. All three are important pieces to the future of the franchise. To the next batch of rankings …

No. 19: Bryan Mitchell

2015 Role: I don’t want to say sixth starter, but it’s something close to that. Mitchell made his MLB debut last season, including a spot start against the Orioles during a doubleheader, and he handled himself well. That doesn’t guarantee success this coming season, of course, but it’s better than getting lit up and leaving everyone with a bad taste in their mouth.

Mitchell will presumably get regular work in Spring Training and could win the final bullpen spot as a long man, I suppose, but an assignment to Triple-A Scranton seems more likely. That way he could remain stretched out and available for whenever the Yankees inevitably need another starter. Given the state of the rotation, there’s a good chance Mitchell will make double-digit starts in the big leagues in 2015.

Long-Term Role: Middle to back of the rotation starter. The 23-year-old Mitchell is well ahead of where Shane Greene was in his development at the same age, and he has similarly nasty stuff in his mid-90s fastball and curveball, though he’s not a finished product. They sort of project to be the same type of pitcher though. Workhorse starters with A+ stuff but maybe not A+ results all the time.

Mitchell was drafted out of high school as a raw hard-thrower and has worked hard to improve his control over the years. He had a 13.6% walk rate in Low Class-A, a 9.3% walk rate in High Class-A, a 9.8% walk rate in Double-A, and an 8.9% walk rate in Triple-A, so he is moving in the right direction. There is more work to be done and it appears much of it will happen at the big league level. The Yankees need Mitchell to help both now and in the future.

No. 18: Gary Sanchez

Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)
Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)

2015 Role: Doesn’t really have one outside of being a September call-up and the emergency extra catcher. A lot would have to go wrong for Sanchez to get a chance behind the plate before rosters expand, I think. His defense, specifically his receiving — he has thrown out 42% of attempted base-stealers the last two seasons and that’s outstanding — is still a work in progress and so is his bat, really. Sanchez will spend the season as the regular catcher with the RailRiders.

Long-Term Role: Impact bat. Hopefully at catcher, but if not, at first base or even DH. Either way, Sanchez is a bat-first prospect and that’s why he is so highly regarded. When Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as the team’s fifth best prospect a few weeks ago, they said he has “the potential for a .280 average and 20-25 home runs annually,” and that’s what the Yankees are hoping to see within a year or two.

Sanchez has shown quite a bit of improvement at making contact and controlling the strike zone as a pro — he had a 25.0% strikeout rate in Low Class-A, a 19.2% strikeout rate in High Class-A, and an 18.2% strikeout rate in Double-A. As with Mitchell, he’s trending in the right direction. Sanchez has power and a strong arm, so the physical tools are there. And he just turned 22 last month, making him the youngest player on the 40-man roster.

The Yankees very clearly value defense behind the plate. It all started years ago, really. They acquired Jose Molina from the Angels in the middle of the 2007 season and the only poor defensive catcher they’ve had since was Jorge Posada. Despite that gaudy caught stealing rate, Sanchez could find himself in another organization if the Yankees don’t like his defense enough. He could wind up being used as trade bait a la Jesus Montero.

Nova. (Presswire)
Nova and his braces. (Presswire)

No. 17: Ivan Nova

2015 Role: Rehabber, at least at first. Nova had Tommy John surgery in late-April and isn’t expected back until May or June of this year. He hasn’t had a setback or anything, the Yankees are just playing it a little safe. A lot of pitchers have recently needed a second Tommy John surgery soon after the first one — Kris Medlen, Jarrod Parker, Cory Luebke, Daniel Hudson, and Brandon Beachy just to name a few — and a lot of people (including Dr. James Andrews) say it may be because they are pushing too hard during the rehab of the first procedure. That’s why the Yankees are taking their time with Nova.

Once healthy and rehabbed, Nova will be expected to jump right back in the starting rotation and contribute. Every team needs more than five starters in a given season and these Yankees figure to be no different considering the injury risks present in the current projected rotation. If Nova comes back in May or June and the team doesn’t have an obvious spot for him, that’s a good thing. Let him get healthy first, then worry about where he fits. My guess is it won’t be a problem.

Long-Term Role: Like I said, Nova will jump right back into the starting rotation once healthy and he’s expected to be in the rotation in 2016 as well. That’s the extent of Nova’s ties to the Yankees though. He will become a free agent after the 2016 season and either he could decide to go elsewhere or the team could decide to move on.

That decision is still a long ways away, of course. Nova has to finish rehabbing his rebuilt elbow, get over the initial strike-throwing issues that so commonly plague recent Tommy John patients, then show in 2016 he is back to where he was before surgery. Now that I think about it … what was Nova before his injury? There were times he looked like an ace and other times he was throwing batting practice. We still don’t really know who the real Nova is at the MLB level. Isn’t that weird?

Coming Friday: Nos. 15 and 16. A young player about to get his first extended taste of big league action and a versatile reliever.

Yankees sign Ivan Nova to one-year, $3.3M contract, avoiding arbitration

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees have signed Ivan Nova to a non-guaranteed one-year contract, avoiding arbitration, the team announced. Non-guaranteed contracts are standard for arbitration-eligible players. Joel Sherman hears Nova will earn $3.3M this coming the season, the same as last year. MLBTR projected a $3.3M salary as well.

Nova, who turned 28 on Monday, didn’t receive a raise this offseason because he only made four starts last year before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Those four starts were really bad too — he had a 8.27 ERA (6.91 FIP) with 40 base-runners allowed in 20.2 innings. Nova had his elbow rebuilt in late-April and isn’t expected to return until May or June of this coming season.

Friday is the deadline for teams and players to submit salary figures for arbitration, but the Yankees rarely let it get that far. They tend to sign their players before figures are exchanged. With Nova and Esmil Rogers both signed, the team’s only remaining arbitration-eligible players are Nathan Eovaldi (projected for $3.1M), Michael Pineda ($2.1M), and David Carpenter ($1.1M).

MLBTR’s Projected Arbitration Salaries for 2015

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At this time last season, the Yankees were still talking about getting under the $189M luxury tax threshold for the 2014 season. It was definitely doable, but it would have been very difficult, especially since the team wanted to contend at the same time. Eventually the Yankees abandoned their luxury tax plan and they didn’t even get back to the postseason anyway, so double yikes.

Because Alex Rodriguez‘s salary is coming back on the books and the team handed out four free agent contracts worth $15M+ last offseason, the Yankees won’t be able to get under the luxury tax in 2015 and probably not in 2016 either. It might be possible in 2017, after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires and the luxury tax threshold is presumably raised.

Anyway, that’s a really long way of saying salaries for New York’s arbitration-eligible players are less important this offseason then they were at this time last year. When I looked at the club’s 2015 payroll situation three weeks ago, I guesstimated a $12M figure for their arbitration-eligible players. Turns out I was pretty close. Matt Swartz posted arbitration salary projections using his insanely accurate model — he’s been within 5% the last few years — earlier this week, and he has the Yankees’ players at $12.9M total. Not a bad job by me. Here are the projections:

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Pineda (~$1.5M raise), Huff (~$200K raise), and Phelps (~$800k raise) are all arbitration-eligible for the first time. Pineda is getting a nice bump in salary despite missing all that time to injury because a) he was pretty awesome when healthy this past year, and b) he was an All-Star back in 2011, and that pays. Phelps qualified as a Super Two by about a month’s worth of service time, so he’ll be arbitration-eligible four times instead of the usual three. He and Pineda aren’t going anywhere. Same goes for Nova (no raise after lost season). They’ll be tendered contracts for next year.

Rogers, on the other hand, is an oh so obvious non-tender candidate at that salary. He earned $1.85M this past season, which is why his projected 2015 salary is so high. His raise isn’t expected to be that significant. Rogers had his moments in pinstripes (like this one) and his fastball/slider combination is just good enough to keep you interested, but not at $1.9M. The Yankees could always non-tender him and re-sign him at a lower salary, maybe even a minor league contract.

I don’t have any problem with Kelley at $2.5M next season — these days you basically have to throw 30 innings and not run over the closer with a bullpen cart to be worth $2.5M — even though he can be annoyingly inconsistent. At his best, he’s a true eighth inning guy who misses an awful lot of bats. At his worst, Kelley allows like four runs and gets one out. Which makes him no worse than most other relievers, really. His projected salary isn’t nearly high enough to scare me away.

The same goes for Cervelli even though I have no reason to believe he can stay healthy over the course of a full season. Quality catching is hard to find and the Yankees shouldn’t give it away for nothing just because they have John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine (and soon Gary Sanchez) sitting in Triple-A. Even if they don’t want to keep Cervelli at that price, I think another team would give them an interesting enough low-level lottery ticket prospect in a trade. Then again, what do I know.

As for Huff, he actually pitched pretty well this past season by long man standards, posting a 1.85 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 39 innings. That’s usable. Huff’s projected salary is barely above the league minimum, so the decision whether to tender him a contract will come down to other factors like project performance and roster concerns. If the Yankees need a 40-man roster spot this winter — they’ll need one as soon as the World Series is over because A-Rod‘s suspension ends — Huff could be the odd man out.

It’s worth mentioning these contracts are not guaranteed. Teams can release arbitration-eligible players who sign one-year deals before mid-March and only owe then 30 days termination pay. If they release them after mid-March but before Opening Day, it’s 45 days termination pay. The Yankees dumped Chad Gaudin this way a few years ago. They could keep Huff, see how the offseason plays out, then cut bait if a need for a roster spot arises. I’d put my money on Huff being non-tendered.

The Yankees have an uninteresting crop of arbitration-eligible players this winter. There are no real tough decisions here. It’s an easy call to non-tender Rogers and an easy enough call to keep everyone other than Huff. Huff is the only borderline guy and there’s almost no wrong decision there. If they non-tender him, fine. If they keep him, whatever. The arbitration-eligible players won’t make or break anything this offseason. The Yankees have an easy arbitration class this winter, which is good because they need to focus on lots of other stuff.

2014 Season Review: Ivan Nova’s Lost Season

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

At this time last year, we were all exciting about penciled Ivan Nova into the 2014 rotation. His 2011-13 seasons were filled with ups and downs — including send-downs to Triple-A Scranton and call-ups to MLB — but he pitched very well in the second half last season and was a bright spot as the team faded from postseason contention. Nova had a 2.59 ERA (3.30 FIP) in his final 15 starts and finished the year with a 3.10 ERA (3.47 FIP) in 139.1 innings.

Nova, along with Hiroki Kuroda, was supposed to be a rock in Joe Girardi‘s rotation this year. CC Sabathia was coming off the worst season of his career and no one really knew what to expect from Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda. Nova came to camp guaranteed a rotation spot for the first time of his career and, in fact, the Yankees even started him in the third game of the season, ahead of the high-priced Tanaka. That was as much about easing Tanaka’s transition as it was a vote of confidence in Nova.

In retrospect, that first start of the season was a sign something was not right. Nova held the Astros to two runs in 5.1 innings but it was a brutally tough outing — he walked five batters, struck out one, threw 47 of 88 pitches for strikes (53%), and got only one swing and miss. He labored against a bad team all night. Next time out, the Orioles clobbered Nova for seven runs on ten hits in only 3.2 innings. With a Game Score of 16, it was the third worst start of his career.

It looked like the bad version of Nova had returned. The guy who had a 5.02 ERA (4.60 FIP) in 2012 and earned midseason demotions to Triple-A in both 2011 and 2013. Then, right on cue, Nova threw a gem, holding the Red Sox to two runs in 7.1 innings. He struck out four, got 14 ground ball outs, and threw 67 of 97 pitches were strikes (69%). Nova did allow eight hits and had to battle for those 7.1 innings, but it was a strong start and what we all wanted to see after those two ugly outings to start 2014.

Nova’s fourth start of the season wound up being his last and it was a total disaster. The Rays battered him at Tropicana Field, scoring eight runs on eight hits in only four innings of work. Four of those eight hits left the yard and another was a double. Tampa Bay squared Nova up with ease. It was ugly. Girardi came out of the dugout not to pull his right-hander because of ineffectiveness, but with the trainer because there was a sign of injury. Here is Nova’s final pitch of the 2014 season:

Ivan Nova elbow shake

That little shake of the arm after the pitch is what got Girardi’s attention and forced Nova out of the game. He went for a series of tests and opinions and they all showed the same thing: a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. Not a complete tear but large enough that Tommy John surgery was recommended. He underwent his elbow reconstruction on April 29th.

Nova finished the season with an 8.27 ERA (6.91 FIP) in four starts and 20.2 innings, but the numbers don’t really mean much of anything. He could have been pitching with soreness or pain in his elbow all year — Nova tried to talk Girardi into staying in the game in Tampa, so he’s not one to give up the ball easily — which certainly could have hurt his performance. Heck, Nova could have been pitching with the partial tear and not even have known it. There might have been no soreness or anything until that last pitch.

A few weeks ago we heard Nova has started a throwing program and is right on schedule with his rehab. He obviously has a long way to go before rejoining the team, and both Girardi and Brian Cashman have said they won’t be aggressive and try to get Nova back as quickly as possible. They’re going to let him rehab at his own pace, which makes sense. Far too many pitchers (Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Cory Luebke, Jarrod Parker, Jonny Venters, etc.) needed a second Tommy John procedure in recent months to push him.

This was a lost year for Nova, who still has yet to have a full season in the Yankees rotation, from start to finish. He won’t have that full season next year either giving the time of his injury, which means the 2016 season will be his only chance to be a full-time starter all year before qualifying for free agency. The injury hurt the team and it was also a big blow to Nova at an important point in his career. This year was a great chance for him to cement his place in the future of the Yankees going forward. Baseball ain’t fair sometimes.