A week ago Ivan Nova looked and sounded like a beaten man.
"I'm not pitching good," Nova said quietly after allowing five runs in Anaheim, the third time in four starts he allowed that many. "It's hard when you're not pitching good, especially when you know that you're better than what you're showing right now. It's been hard for me."
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Wednesday night, Nova made it look easy for eight innings, mostly controlling the Rays in the Yankees' 4-1 victory in front of 38,370 at the Stadium.
Nova (7-2), allowed one run and four hits, for one of the few times this season resembling the pitcher who appeared to have a breakout season in 2011 when he went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA. "He knew he wasn't throwing the ball as well as he can," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "He knew after that game [in Anaheim] he needed to make some adjustments mentally and physically and he did that tonight."
The Yankees (31-24), who got home runs from Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, go for the sweep Thursday night when CC Sabathia takes on David Price. Over their last full turn of the rotation since June 1, Yankees starters, in five combined starts by Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte and Nova are 4-0 with a 1.64 ERA.
"I gotta step up, I gotta do my job and be better, especially when everybody's pitching good," said Nova, who brought a bulky 5.60 ERA into Wednesday night. "I don't want to be the guy [that ends it]. I want to be another guy pitching good. I hope I can carry it to the next start and keep pitching good for the rest of the season."
Nova shut out the Rays (31-22), whose lineup has had its struggles without the injured Evan Longoria, for eight innings before allowing back-back triples to Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton to start the ninth, which cut the Yankees' lead to 4-1.
With a biting slider and curveball and some of the best fastball command he's shown all season, Nova struck out five and walked one. After allowing Jennings' hit to lead off the game, Nova didn't allow another one until Sean Rodriguez's one-out double in the eighth. That hit ended a streak of 12 straight retired for Nova.
Tampa's Alex Cobb (2-2), a 24-year-old rookie making his fourth start of the season and 13th of his career (he spent some time in the big leagues last season), for the most part pitched well. The righthander allowed just the home runs to Teixeira and Cano before getting tagged for two runs in the eighth.
Teixeira's 10th homer of the season, in the second, put the Yankees on the board and Cano's ninth blast of the year in the fourth made it 2-0.
After that, Cobb retired 10 straight before Raul Ibañez's single to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Dewayne Wise pinch ran and scored on Nick Swisher's RBI double down the rightfield line that made it 3-0. Eric Chavez, starting at third for Alex Rodriguez, followed with a double into the gap in left-center to make it 4-0 and finish Cobb's night. "I think it's important because I think he was somewhat frustrated with some of the things that were happening," Girardi said of Nova's outing. "He just went to work and said, 'I need to do better.' "