Ivan Nova starting to settle in Yankees rotation

Ivan Nova of the Yankees pitches against the

Ivan Nova of the Yankees pitches against the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium. (July 10, 2013) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

All the breathless anticipation this season over absent Yankees, trying to work their way back from the minor-league environs of Tampa and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, somehow missed one Ivan Manuel Nova Guance.

Nova, the 26-year-old righthander, went from No. 5 in the pitching rotation after spring training to a monthlong stay on the disabled list, then a brief Bronx return before temporary demotion to Triple A.

But quietly. Since he is neither a lightning rod nor a fan magnet (terms which might describe the fellows missing from left side of the infield), Nova's personal trial as a baseball hobo was little noted.

Until the last six days, at least. Nova Wednesday night delivered a second consecutive strong performance -- this time, allowing five hits through eight innings in the Yankees' 8-1 win over the Royals.

That followed Friday night's complete-game, three-hit, 11-strikeout victory over Baltimore that -- for the time being, at least -- has made Nova a regular starter again.

"I don't remember the last time I feel the way I feel now," said Nova, who struck out six, walked only two, and kept Kansas City off the scoreboard until Alcides Escobar's walk and Eric Hosmer's double with two outs in the eighth.

After allowing two, two-out singles in the first two innings, Nova retired 12 straight Kansas City batters, and even before Lyle Overbay's sixth-inning grand slam, "The way Nova was throwing the ball," manager Joe Girardi said, "you kind of felt the lead would hold up."

Nova's revival is no small potatoes for a team that was on a three-game losing streak and hardly has caused opposing pitcher to shake in their boots lately. Especially after Hiroki Kuroda's hip strain delayed his regular turn, and David Phelps was exiled to the disabled list with a forearm strain last weekend, providing Nova an opening in the rotation.

Possibly, Nova's more aggressive attitude has helped. The Yankees staff, during Nova's rehab in Tampa from a triceps inflammation, had taken to calling the typically laid-back Nova "Lion," and Nova said he even worked on affecting a "meaner face" when staring down hitters.

In late May, he had just gotten back to the Bronx, healthy again, when the return of both Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis from the disabled list squeezed him out of a roster spot. That trip back down to Triple-A, he said, was "the toughest part of my career."

Still, what goes around, comes around, and Phelps was the latest to get the feeling that no one seems a full-fledged member of the 2013 Yankees until he has undergone a magnetic resonance imaging test.

"I was trying to stay off that list," Phelps said. But, at least, when his MRI came back clean, he was relieved to learn he can resume pitching by next week.

Meanwhile, Girardi said, "getting Ivan back on track was really important for us. He'd gotten a little out of whack the second half [last season] and the beginning of this year. But he's a guy I've had high expectations for.

"It's a long season. It's a grind. So having extra starters is a good problem to have."

Here, then, is Nova, playing something of a savior role. Back from Tampa and Scranton.

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