Bullpen lets down Ivan Nova, Yankees in loss to Rays

Ivan Nova of the Yankees stands on the

Ivan Nova of the Yankees stands on the mound in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. (June 23, 2013) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre has achieved a certain measure of fame as the location for "The Office'' television series, but when you work for a franchise whose head office is Yankee Stadium, well, there's simply no comparison.

Recalling his trip back to the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate at the end of May, pitcher Ivan Nova said: "It's not easy to take the bus back to Triple-A. I feel real bad, but I also know that I wasn't pitching well. I just take that time to get where I need to be.''

Nova was back on the Stadium mound as a spot starter Sunday afternoon, and for more than six innings, he did his best to reclaim a place in the starting rotation. But two consecutive hit batsmen with two outs in the seventh inning of a tie game ended his day, and both scored on James Loney's single off Boone Logan to give Tampa Bay a 3-1 victory in front of an Old-Timers' Day crowd of 46,054.

After a seven-hit effort in which Nova (2-2) struck out seven and walked three, he was asked if the performance was good enough to let him stay. "I've got to say yes,'' Nova said.

Despite the loss, manager Joe Girardi indicated Nova made the decision more difficult. "When you see the way he pitched today, he made it real hard,'' Girardi said. "He's got very good stuff. It's the consistency of pitches that makes the difference, and you saw today what he's capable of doing.''

Nova, who was 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA in three Scranton starts, had better command of his fastball, and his curve was especially impressive. He used it to get six of his seven strikeouts, including all three outs in the fifth.

"I have a lot of confidence that I can throw it any time,'' Nova said. "In the first inning, I was excited to be back here. After that, I think all my pitches get better.''

Matt Joyce opened the game with a single, was sacrificed to second and scored on a single by Ben Zobrist. Nova walked Evan Longoria, but Loney grounded back to the mound and Nova started a 1-6-3 double play.

The Yankees tied it in the bottom of the first. Brett Gardner, who had three hits, led off with a single and went to second on Kelly Johnson's error. Gardner reached third on a wild pitch and scored on Robinson Cano's long sacrifice fly to leftfield.

Nova and Rays starter Chris Archer (2-3), who gave up six hits, walked one and struck out four in six innings, battled evenly from there until the seventh.

Nova retired Yunel Escobar and Joyce to begin that inning but hit Desmond Jennings with his first pitch to him and then hit Zobrist with an 0-and-2 curveball. After Shawn Kelley walked Longoria to load the bases, Loney lined Logan's 1-and-2 slider to center to drive in two runs. The lefthanded-hitting Loney is batting .364 against lefthanders this season.

Describing the hit batsmen, Nova said: "The first fastball came off my fingers a little bit, and I hit him. But the curve, I think I tried to do too much with it, trying to do it perfect, trying to throw to the back foot instead of letting it go. It cost me the two runs.''

It will be a few days before the Yankees decide Nova's fate, but Girardi said they don't like the idea of having him sit around as a long reliever. But Nova would do anything to avoid a return to Scranton.

How bad was it? "Real bad,'' he said. "I mean, you don't want to be there. That's the bottom line. The good thing is I went down there with a good attitude, and that helped me a lot. I was talking to everybody so that I get an answer for my problems.''

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