Nova effective, but what's next?

Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova reacts after striking

Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova reacts after striking out Mets center fielder Angel Pagan to end the bottom of the fifth inning. (July 1, 2011) (Credit: Christopher Pasatieri)

Regardless of perception, Brian Cashman said Ivan Nova didn't take the mound Friday night with his job on the line.

"Nova's not pitching for anything tonight," the general manager said before the game. "Outside of the win."

Nova got it, pitching five effective innings in the Yankees' 5-1 victory over the Mets at Citi Field. The Yankees won their sixth straight and are a major league-best 29-12 since May 17.

Nova (8-4, 4.12 ERA), in trouble much of the night but aided by a 3-0 first-inning lead, allowed one run and seven hits. He stranded seven, and the Mets were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position against him.

"I think he just had a lot of experiences last year and this year, he's found ways to get outs and make his pitches," manager Joe Girardi said of Nova's improvement this season in pitching with runners on. "I think improving his repertoire with the slider and the changeup has also helped. He's got different pitches to go to. But I think it's just part of the process learning how to pitch in those tough situations."

Where Nova pitches next -- out of the bullpen or rotation -- has not been determined.

Bartolo Colon, coming off the disabled list from a strained left hamstring, will start Saturday, and Phil Hughes could come off the DL as soon as next week.

Neither Cashman nor Girardi would say if Hughes, who looked good in his rehab start Wednesday for Double-A Trenton, will pitch one more minor-league game or rejoin the rotation next week in Cleveland.

Before the game, Girardi said his "probable" starters for the Cleveland series, which begins Monday, are A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia and Nova. But the only one of those "etched in stone," he said, is Sabathia.

Hughes, having pitched Wednesday, would be on his fifth day Monday.

"He's going to pitch somewhere," Girardi said. "I just can't tell you exactly where it is because we don't have a clear-cut answer yet."

Hughes threw 88 pitches Wednesday in 61/3 innings, allowing one run and three hits.

"Is it better for Phil to stretch out a little bit more?" Cashman said. "Stuff-wise, he looked ready after his last outing, so we're kicking it around what we're going to do. We just haven't decided yet."

Girardi and Cashman have left open the possibility of going with a six-man rotation -- "We're talking about it," Cashman said -- though that's unlikely, given that Sabathia and Burnett prefer to take their starts on regular rest.

Nova pledged indifference to all of the speculation a day before his start -- and mostly pitched that way.

"It's not difficult for me because I'm not thinking about it," Nova said of the questions surrounding his rotation spot. "I'm just thinking about doing my job. They'll make their decision and there's nothing I can do about it. Just pitch my game and do my job."

Though his outing was truncated a bit -- Jorge Posada pinch hit for him in the sixth -- Nova ground his way through. After the first two Mets reached in the first, he got out of it with a popout and 4-3 double play started by Robinson Cano, who made a tremendous scoop on a short hop off the bat of Daniel Murphy.

The Mets' only run came in the second when they got three consecutive one-out hits.

Notes & quotes: Cashman said Eric Chavez (left foot fracture), on the DL since May 6, recently suffered a setback, straining his back . . . Cashman said "if everything goes perfect" for RHP Rafael Soriano (right elbow inflammation), who threw a bullpen session Friday, he could be back after the All-Star break. But Cashman cautioned that "nothing ever goes perfect, unfortunately."

Notes "es:

Cashman said Eric Chavez (left foot fracture), on the DL since May 6, recently suffered a setback in his rehab, straining his back . . . Girardi said Colon could go "around 80 pitches or so" in Saturday's start . . . Cashman said "if everything goes perfect" for RHP Rafael Soriano (right elbow inflammation), who threw a bullpen session Friday, he could be back after the All-Star break. But noting that Soriano still had to get through more bullpens, live BPs and rehab outings, Cashman cautioned that "nothing ever goes perfect, unfortunately."

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