Right-hander Ivan Nova was superb when initially promoted to the New York Yankees’ starting staff, but a recent rough patch puts his status in a state of uncertainty.
By Emmanuel Berbari
When Ivan Nova was first placed in the starting rotation, he proved that he never belonged in the New York Yankees‘ bullpen. Amidst the horrifying struggles of Luis Severino and his eventual injury, the 29-year-old seized the opportunity.
In his first three starts, he did not allow more than one run and seemed at ease on the mound. He was proving he was not only a fill-in but an asset.
Each time he turned in a quality start he turned heads and became one of the most reliable arms in the eyes of the coaching staff.
However, since a strong performance against Oakland on May 19 he has not been quite the same. Over that span, his record is 2-3 and his ERA a lowly 6.30. A once reliable arm has turned into a relative liability.
One statistic that pops out may explain Nova’s struggles. Over his first three stellar outings as part of the five-man staff, the Yanks were only stretching him out to an average of 72 pitches and were lifting him in favor of the bullpen earlier rather than later. In the five subpar starts since, they have taken the training wheels off and let him go. An average of 95 pitches a start has highlighted the five outings, including his first three 100+ pitch starts of the season.
An inability to work him up to speed gradually has resulted in the ridiculous .435/.458/1.000 slash that opponents have worked against Nova in pitches 76-100 of his outings. In addition, opponents have blasted four homers over 23 at-bats in that pitch range.
With that being said, it is not Nova, in particular, to blame for the downturn. The coaching staff simply did not work him up.
Nevertheless, struggles are struggles. Ivan Nova is not performing and Luis Severino, currently pitching in Scranton, most certainly is. When it comes time to make a split decision, the Yankees will have two options. They can either stick with a tumbling starter who is essentially a long-man or go with an ascending top prospect who they viewed as a future ace at season’s start.
After going a dismal 0-6 with an inflated 7.46 ERA in seven big league starts this year, getting hurt, getting activated and sent down, and spending time back in Tripe-A, Severino has righted the ship.
The 22-year-old is 3-0 with a 2.52 ERA in four starts back in the minors and has struck out 24 in 25 innings pitched. His WHIP is also an outstanding 0.88 at this point. Combine that with his dazzling 5-3, 2.89 ERA in an 11 start stretch in the bigs last year and you can infer that Severino has regained form.
His last start was by far the most telling, allowing a mere three hits and one run over eight and third masterful innings in a Rail Riders win over the Gwinnett Braves. One more start in which he produces a fraction of that and it would be reasonable to think that he will get the call to pack his bags and return to the Bronx.
The question that remains is when that time comes, at what level will Nova be pitching at? If his next couple of starts do not entail what he was doing back in early May, he may be on his way back to where he started — the bullpen.
With that said, tonight’s start against the Colorado Rockies, a team that pounced on him his last time out, should be viewed as pivotal to his status as a starter for the remaining three and a half months of the regular season.
Nova has always viewed himself as a starter and has made himself clear on that notion. Well, now is his time to prove it.