Archive for Ivan Nova
Via Mark Feinsand, right-hander Ivan Nova is expected to make his next start Saturday after throwing this regular side session today. Nova suffered a right foot contusion and a sprained right ankle against the Orioles on Monday after getting hit by a comebacker and then taking an awkward step fielding a chopper. Glad he’s okay, now he just needs to work on keeping the ball down.
The Yankees won last night’s game against the Orioles but lost four players to injury in the process. Clay Rapada‘s viral infection isn’t the end of the world and even if he needs time on DL, the recently claimed Justin Thomas can take his place as the second lefty rather easily. Raul Ibanez has a nice little mark on his right elbow after getting hit by a pitch, but he said he’ll probably be able to play today. With the left-handed Wei-Yin Chen on the bump for Baltimore, Ibanez figures to get the day off anyway.
The injuries to Ivan Nova and David Robertson are potentially much more significant. Nova took a comebacker off his right ankle/foot in the third inning and apparently did more damage fielding a ground ball in the sixth, suffering a contusion and sprain of that right ankle and foot. It’s unclear if he’ll have to miss a start at the moment, but I assume David Phelps will shift back into the rotation if Nova can’t give it a go in five days. That can be problematic because it will shorten the pitching staff, which is already without Mariano Rivera and will likely lose Robertson as well.
The setup man turned closer suffered some kind of rib cage injury during his last appearance on Friday and it lingered through the weekend. Robertson is headed for tests today and almost any kind of oblique issue would result in a DL stint. Those can be very tricky and it’s easy to turn a minor oblique/ribcage injury into a major one if it isn’t given enough time the heal. With Mo already on the shelf, the Yankees can ill afford to lose Robertson for any length of time.
This recent rash of injuries combined with losing Mo and Michael Pineda for the season is really going to test the team’s depth. Phelps is a fine fill-in starter and the trio of Rafael Soriano, Boone Logan, and Cory Wade is fully capable of late-inning relief work, but there would still be two pitching spots to fill. Cody Eppley is a logical call-up candidate but is nothing more than a right-handed specialist. D.J. Mitchell could pitch multiple innings and could even spot start for Nova if the Yankees want to keep Phelps in a leveraged bullpen role. Manny Delcarmen is a non-40-man roster bullpen candidate, but I don’t think anyone is clamoring for him.
Obviously losing the starter in Nova is more significant, but the Yankees will have a tougher time replacing a late-inning arm in Robertson. Phelps, Mitchell, and even Adam Warren can spot start with no problem if needed, but it’ll take some time to find a trusted end-game reliever. It’s silly but it’s true, late-inning relievers are in their own little world. The Yankees can always scour the waiver wire and dabble in the trade market if internal solutions are not found and Robertson’s injury is anything that will require more than like, two weeks on the shelf. I really hope it doesn’t come to that.
Assuming tonight’s game doesn’t get rained out, the Yankees will have CC Sabathia on the mound and yet again, they’re going to need innings from their ace. The bullpen, specifically the middle relief guys like Logan and Wade, have been worked hard these last few games and could really use the night off. I mean no warming up, no nothing. Robertson’s probable unavailability will compound the problem, ditto the chance that Phelps will be needed to start for Nova in five days. Every team deals with injuries, but the sheer volume of injuries in such a short amount of time is going to put the club’s pitching depth to work.
10:07pm: Nova has a contusion and sprain of his right foot and ankle, the team announced. X-rays were negative, but it’s unclear how long he’ll be out. If he needed to spend time on the DL, David Phelps could step right back into the rotation without a hitch.
9:30pm: Ivan Nova left tonight’s game with an apparent ankle/foot injury after fielding a ball in the sixth inning. He’d been hit by a comebacker in the right ankle/foot a few innings earlier but remained in the game. Stay tuned for updates.
It’s been kind of an odd start to the season for Ivan Nova. He’s striking out way more batters (8.22 K/9 and 19.6 K%) than last year (5.33 K/9 and 13.9 K%) and has walked fewer as well (2.64 BB/9 and 6.3 BB% vs. 3.10 BB/9 and 8.1 BB%), but his ground ball rate is down (44.2% vs. 52.7%) and he’s been getting hit hard. I mean really hard. Opponents have hit .341/.392/.636 against Nova in 143 plate appearances so far this year, and that’s just awful.
Thankfully, there are two pieces of good news. First, his stuff hasn’t changed from last season. His slider continues to be his primary secondary pitch and if anything, his fastball velocity actually jumped about half-a-mile an hour this year. Secondly, there is some statistical funny business going on. It’s very unlikely that Nova will fall victim to a .393 BABIP all season, though I suppose it’s possible if he doesn’t boost his ground ball rate and Raul Ibanez/Eduardo Nunez roam an outfield corner all season. His 16.7% HR/FB is quite astronomical and Hit Tracker says three of the six homers he’s allowed are “Just Enoughs,” meaning they were essentially wall-scrapers. Hopefully that evens out over time.
Unfortunately, there’s also some bad news. Nova’s fastball has been getting hammered despite the slight increase in velocity, resulting in a pitch that has been 9.2 runs below average so far this year. It hasn’t just been the least effective fastball in the league this year, it’s been the least effective pitch in all of baseball. That’s pretty bad. Unsurprisingly, location is a big reason why. Nova’s left the pitch up in the strike zone quite a bit in the early going, especially to left-handed batters…
That’s a lot of fastballs basically right in the middle of the zone and above. There’s nothing wrong with pitching up in the zone, it can be brutally effective when done properly, but the rate at which Nova is going is probably a) a little extreme, and b) not entirely planned. The big knock on him throughout the minors was that he lacked deception in his delivery, which is why he never racked up as many strikeouts as his stuff suggested he should. If he’s not hiding the ball well and leaving fastball up in the zone too much, well that’s how you end up with a .341/.392/.636 batting line against through five starts.
The Rays have been one of the very best fastball-hitting teams in the majors so far this season, so tonight would be a great time for Nova to get his heater under control and down in the zone. Given the general uncertainty in the rotation behind CC Sabathia, it would be nice to have Ivan become that workhorse starter we all expected him to be after his great second half last year.
Are you worried about Ivan Nova‘s rough spring? In one way, it’s easy to write off his poor performance. We can turn to some pretty gruesome spring trainings that meant absolutely nothing. After all, in the spring of 2009 Zack Greinke had an ERA of nearly 10; he won the AL Cy Young Award that season. Cliff Lee had a 5.68 ERA in the spring of 2008, and he had been demoted for poor performance in 2007, yet he produced a magnificent Cy Young season. In that way, it’s not too concerning to see Nova’s 8.06 ERA this spring.
Yet there’s something peculiar about the way Nova has performed this spring. Read accounts of his games, and you’ll see one term repeated frequently: not sharp. It wasn’t exactly a control thing; he walked only three batters in 22.1 innings. But he just wasn’t locating his pitches as he did last season. He wasn’t getting ground balls, which are key to his game. And he was leaving plenty of mistakes over the plate, as his team-leading five home runs suggests. Does that do anything to raise the level of concern?
It’s easy to forget how Nova ended last season. After surrendering a pair of solo homers in the first inning of ALDS Game 5, Nova mysteriously did not come out for the second. It was later revealed that he suffered an injury to the flexor tendon in his forearm, which is never something you want to hear. But he had the whole winter to rest and rehab, and it wasn’t long before the Yankees declared him healthy and ready to go. All seemed well. That is, until he got knocked around this spring.
This isn’t to throw up alarms and declare Nova injured. For all we know he could do the same thing that Greinke did in 2009, that Lee did in 2008, and completely shed a rough spring. But there has to be some worry that the injury continues to affect him. Maybe it’s not at risk for further damage, but maybe it throws him off enough that he’s not effective. That could hamper the Yankees to start the season. It’s also exactly why they assembled so much depth.
When Michael Pineda went down it was a big deal, but only because he represents such a big part of their future. Thankfully, the Yankees were prepared for such an occurrence. While having six starters for five spots was deemed a competition, it was as much insurance as anything. Pitchers get hurt, so having six for five spots is almost a necessity for a contending team. The Yankees suffered an injury, and were able to cover it up with their depth. If something is wrong with Nova and he’s not able to pitch effectively, they’ll again have to dip into their depth.
Thankfully, the Yankees do have some options that they can use in Nova’s place should worse come to worst. David Phelps has already made the big league club in the bullpen, and if Nova falters from the start they could slide him into the rotation. They also have Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell in AAA, if they’d rather use someone who is already stretched out. Chances are none of those guys will step in and immediately replicate Nova’s production. But they certainly represent better options than we’ve seen in the past. That is to say, there’s no Sidney Ponson on the horizon if the pitching staff suffers another injury or bout of ineffectiveness.
Nova’s poor spring performance might be nothing. It might have been him pressing himself a bit too much. It might been him making certain necessary adjustments. It might have been one of those spring flukes we see nearly every year. But there is a possibility that something is not right with Nova, and that it will hurt his effectiveness from the get-go. If that is the case — and, again, it’s just a what-if scenario — the Yankees do have the depth to cover him. It might not be ideal, but it’s there. That’s why there’s never a problem in having seven guys for five spots. Something always comes up to mess up the best-case scenario.
The good news is that the Yankees have two and a half weeks to sort the final three spots in the starting rotation. The bad news is — really, there is no bad news. The difficult news, if it can even be called that, is that they don’t have a spot for everyone. Right from the start someone is getting traded, optioned to the minors, or sent to the bullpen. Then, a few weeks later, assuming Andy Pettitte‘s comeback goes according to plan and schedule, they’ll have to make another similar move.
Given the guys on the roster, the Yanks could move in a number of directions. They face a few restrictions, but few enough that they can both populate their rotation with five high-quality arms and retain depth. They might even find upgrades in other spots along the way.
While it was seen as meaningless banter when he said it, Joe Girardi did reveal a truth when he talked about his rotation earlier this spring. In discussing his starters, he said that only CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda were guaranteed spots. Yeah right, people said in reaction. As though they’re going to send Ivan Nova or Michael Pineda to the bullpen or to the minors. Yet right now the possibility of just such a move has increased.
Without reading too far into Girardi’s statement, he did make one thing clear: Sabathia and Kuroda are unmovable. Kuroda secured a no-trade clause when he signed on with the Yankees. Given his desire to stay in LA last season, despite having no prayer of making the postseason, there is a close to zero chances that he waives it at any point this season. He committed to New York, and given everything we’ve heard about him, he intends to honor that commitment. Sabathia, of course, is the team’s ace and is essentially irreplaceable. We don’t need to forget about the idea of moving him, because it was never there in the first place.
If the Yankees would like to retain their depth, they could take advantage of the three pitchers on staff who have minor league options. Phil Hughes, Michael Pineda, and Ivan Nova can head to AAA if the Yankees feel that is the best course of action. Chances are, however, that AAA isn’t the best option for these guys, for a number of reasons.
1. A full AAA rotation. The Yankees already have D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, and Manny Banuelos in the AAA rotation. There have long been talks of Mitchell and Betances going to the bullpen, but it appears the Yankees would prefer for that move to come of necessity. Optioning one of the big leaguers to AAA would mean bumping someone at AAA, which causes a chain reaction across the organization.
2. The AAA road show. As we know, the AAA Yankees — the Empire State Yankees — will have no home turf this year. They will essentially be a traveling roadshow. That makes life a bit tougher, and it might make them think twice before optioning one of their more highly regarded pitchers. Then again, they do plan to have Betances and Banuelos travel all season, so perhaps it’s not that big a deal. In any case, it seems like an unideal situation to force someone into.
Along with those two general points, each pitcher has something going himself. It seems unlikely the Yankees would trade their up-and-coming slugger, and 2012 full-time DH, for a guy they’re going to stash in AAA. Last year Nova was one of the Yankees’ more reliable starters, and even earned the call in Game 2 of the ALDS. Finally, how silly would it look if the Yankees optioned Hughes to AAA a month after Brian Cashman referred to him as a “top-of-the-rotation starter”?
To the bullpen
Before the Pettitte news broke, it was pretty much assumed that the Yankees would move the odd man out of the rotation into the bullpen. From the start of the spring it appeared that Freddy Garcia would head that way, since the Yankees want to continue giving Phil Hughes chances in the rotation. Since Pettitte won’t be back to start the season, the Yankees could simply continue on this path and table their decision until Pettitte forces the issue.
Eventually the Yankees will have to make another rotation decision. Once Pettitte is ready, someone will get bumped. By that point, things might work themselves out. Someone might get hurt, someone might pitch horribly, whatever. That would give them a chance to shuffle things around and make room for Pettitte in the rotation.
Still, the Yanks could decide to get out in front of this issue and make a trade now to keep the picture a bit clearer. Chances are Garcia would agree to a trade — they need his permission if they want to trade him before June 15th. Otherwise, would they trade Nova for the right package? Hughes? It seems as though it’s Garcia or bust when it comes to a trade. That lessens the chance that one will happen.
All of this is predicated on the idea that Pettitte will indeed come back in good form. There is always the chance that he does not, which is why the Yanks might want to avoid the trade route. Then again, they do have considerable depth in the minors, so losing Garcia might not hurt that much, even if Pettitte does not return.
Looking at it from a wider angle, there doesn’t seem to be much of an issue. The Yankees can proceed as normal through the final weeks of spring training. Pettitte only complicates things a bit further down the road. Maybe this increases the chances the Yankees look to trade someone, but for right not it’s unlikely that they do anything too drastic. Seven starters for five spots seems like excess, but that can chance in a heartbeat. Despite possible complications, the Yanks are in a great spot right now.
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.
During the pitching-starved days of the mid-aughts, the Yankees seemed to tax their bullpen on a nightly basis, because their starters were unable to pitch any more than five or six innings. That started to change a few years ago as the team added some quality starters and offense around the league declined in general, and now the club has no fewer than three starters who can be counted on for six strong innings. Back in the day it was just one, before age started to catch up with Mike Mussina.
The Yankees got 979.1 IP out of their starters last season (6.05 IP per game), the eighth most in the AL and the 14th most in baseball. That total is up from 973 IP in 2010 (ninth and 14th, respectively) and 935 IP in 2009 (tenth and 19th, respectively). There isn’t very much correlation between starter innings and team winning percentage, but there is a strong correlation between starter innings and overall runs allowed. Relievers are relievers for a reason; they’re typically inferior pitchers and the more time the starters spend on the mound, the better. Here’s a look at the Yankees’ innings guys for this coming season.
There is no greater workhorse in baseball than Sabathia. The burly left-hander has topped the 230 IP plateau in each of his three seasons with the Yankees and in each of his last five seasons overall. Including playoffs, he’s thrown an ungodly 766 IP in just three years with New York. His 1,199 IP since the start of 2007 are the most in baseball, and only Roy Halladay (1,194.2) is within 50 IP of his total.
Sabathia has made 67 starts over the last two seasons, and only once has he failed to complete five innings. That was May 8th of 2010, when a rain delay forced him from the game at 85 pitches with two outs in the fifth. His current streak of 60 consecutive starts with at least five innings pitched is the longest in baseball, eight more than Justin Verlander and 14 more than Jeremy Guthrie. Sabathia has more starts of at least eight innings (28) with the Yankees than starts of six or fewer innings (21). There are few things in baseball more certain than CC taking the ball and pitching deep into the game 30+ times a year.
As a veteran starter, the Yankees are expecting peace of mind from Kuroda. He’s supposed to just take the ball every five days and pitch as deep into the game as possible with as little drama as possible, kinda like the old Andy Pettitte mentality. Pitching like an ace isn’t required, but the expectation is a solid performance good enough for a win each time out. It sounds simple enough, but we all know these things are never easy.
Because he was pitching in the NL and for a bad offensive team, Kuroda was often lifted for a pinch-hitter despite having gas left in the tank in recent years. Just last season he was removed from a game with fewer than 100 pitches before the start of the seventh inning 11 times. It’s 40 times since the start of 2009, or nearly half of his 83 starts. Hiroki has averaged just 15.6 pitches per inning during that time, yet only 6.1 innings per start. The Yankees won’t have to worry about pinch-hitting for him, so Joe Girardi is free to let Kuroda throw 100+ pitches each time out in 2012.
The Yankees have done some mind-numbingly stupid things to control the innings of their young hurlers in recent years, but Nova is the rare exception. He’s thrown at least 180 innings and made at least 30 starts in each of the last two seasons (majors and minors but not including playoffs), and at least 140 IP in each of the last four seasons*. Nova has never been on the disabled list, and his first serious injury came in Game Five of last year’s ALDS. His strained flexor is 100% healed however, and he’s been able to go full bore since Day One of Spring Training.
* We’re fudging a bit for 2009, when Nova threw 139.1 minor league innings. He was a Rule 5 Draft pick of the Padres that year, and the Yankees had to send him to Extended Spring Training briefly because San Diego used him as a reliever in camp and he hadn’t been properly stretched out.
After struggling to get through the order multiple times early in the season, Nova used his improved slider to complete at least seven innings in seven of his 12 starts after returning from the minors. He was also very pitch efficient down the stretch, averaging just 14.5 pitches per inning after the All-Star break. Only six pitchers were more efficient in the second half (min. 60 IP), and only one of those six pitched in the AL (Doug Fister). More of the same would be just dandy in 2012.
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Although Phil Hughes remains a question mark and Freddy Garcia has been a five-and-fly starter the last two seasons (averaged 5.2 IP per start), Michael Pineda‘s workload isn’t much of a concern. He threw 171 IP for the Mariners last season, up just 31.2 IP from 2010. It was his third time over 138 IP in the last four years, with the one exception being 2009. A sore elbow cost him three months that summer, but otherwise he’s been healthy throughout his career. Pineda is poised for 200 IP in 2012, though I don’t think giving him a little two-week vacation at the All-Star break would be the worst thing in the world since he figures to be part of a potential playoff rotation.
The obvious pro of Spring Training is that baseball is back! Horray! Baseball players! They are truly wonderful and amazing creatures, capable of feats none of us could ever accomplish. I once attempted to play second base in the local rec softball league, constantly mentally telling myself to just do it exactly like Robinson Cano does. As you can imagine, this did not work out, and not only did I make a total idiot of myself, but a ground ball took a funny bounce, destroyed my shin, and had me limping for the rest of the day. After that, I decided to stick to writing about and watching baseball.
Anyway, even in Spring Training, most of the players could probably whoop us, even the veteran double-A guys who don’t know what else to do with themselves. They’re rusty, especially the big-timers like Sabathia. And I think getting on them for having a first poor Spring Training outing is, quite frankly, a little stupid.
First of all, the whole point of Spring Training is to get back into the groove. Baseball’s all timing, and when someone hasn’t thrown a ~90 MPH ball of cork at you in months, it can take some time to get used to that again. Likewise, if you haven’t thrown that ball in a while – not at full speed, facing a live batter, of course – it takes time to put all the parts back together. Throwing a baseball is a complex biomechanical action, and I’m not holding it against anyone who takes a few weeks to get back into the swing of things, consider the minuscule percentage of people who can even figure out what the correct swing of things is.
Secondly, one outing in any event should be treated as too small a sample to judge, and an outing of two innings should be a mere blip on the radar. If it doesn’t count, that seems like it should be even more insignificant on the ‘things Yankees fans should worry about from the team’ checklist. Even if Sabathia had gone out and bombed two innings in a regular season game, there’s simply not enough to worry about.
So, can we stop getting on Nova, Sabathia and Cano for not being able to put it together just yet? They’ve been playing baseball for a week. It doesn’t count. They’re obviously (ok, according to Girardi, not Nova) going to be in the lineup/rotation. It’s not like we’re dealing with scrubs who, if they don’t perform in the spring, aren’t going to be on the team. These guys are using Spring Training to experiment, re-adjust and recalibrate themselves to being utterly awesome. A little turbulence should be expected, in my humble opinion. So chill out.
On the flip side of this, if you do make it your goal in life to be stressed out about five Spring Training innings from your fourth place Cy Young finisher from last year, I have a better place for you to put those feelings. This feeling-adjustment fulfills all the necessary requirements of irrational Spring Training rage: A) The players in question are playing way differently than they’re expected. B) The samples sizes are extremely small. C) We know if they’re going to the Yankees or not.
1. Gus Molina (3-for-3)
Here we have a catcher with some potential, making very good contact and getting on base. Quite frankly, I don’t even know why we bother with Russell Martin behind the plate. It’s obvious Martin has all the power (he’s 2-for-8 with a double and 3 strikeouts) and none of the other skills. He might work out better at first base, because while him and Mark Teixeira have similar numbers, Martin has all the power.
2. Jose Gil (2-for-3)
On second thought, let’s just release Mark Texieira and put Gil at first base. He’s raking in spring training, with two doubles, an RBI, and a walk. That’s the making of a potential MVP right there, I think. Especially considering that he probably won’t bunt as much as Teixeira has been talking about doing. No bunting allowed. Ever.
3. Dan Burawa (0.00 ERA)
Really, those shiny zeroes say it all. Here we have a genuine ace who’s going to toil away at some minor league level where no one can appreciate his genius. Obviously, what the Yankees should do is demote Nova and put Burawa in his pace. While the man has given up three hits, he’s also got a strikeout and generates plenty of groundballs to make a successful job in the majors. Anyone who has a 0.00 ERA is pretty good. Exhibit A: Nick Swisher.
Via George King, the Yankees have agreed to one-year contracts with Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, and Eduardo Nunez. None of the three were free agents or anything like that, but they were not yet eligible for arbitration and the team could have renewed their contracts at pretty much any salary they wanted. Pineda signed for $528,475, Nova for $527,200, and Nunez for $523,800. The minimum salary this year is $480k thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Cory Wade, another pre-arb guy, signed for $500k ($508,925 according to King) back in January. The deadline to sign these guys was actually last Friday, so it’s safe to assume the Yankees also worked out one-year deals near the minimum with Chris Dickerson, Frankie Cervelli, and every other pre-arb guy on the 40-man roster.