"I'm going to win," he said of one of the Yankees' available rotation spots.
He eventually did and now, just try taking it away from him.
In his strongest performance yet, Nova, using a nasty sinking fastball, shut down the Rangers in the Yankees' 4-1 victory Friday night at the Ballpark in Arlington that snapped a three-game losing streak.
Nova, backed by two Curtis Granderson home runs that gave him a team-high 10, went a career-best 71/3 innings, allowing two hits and one run, which was unearned. He struck out one and walked one, getting the majority of his outs on the ground.
"I know I'm not a big strikeout pitcher," Nova said. "I just need to locate my pitches and get quick outs."
The 24-year-old Nova was replaced by Rafael Soriano after Mark Teixeira couldn't handle a short hop at first, leading to an error and giving the Rangers runners on first and second with one out. It was a rare miscue on a night the Yankees' defense was otherwise shining, highlighted by a sliding catch in right by 10-time Gold Glove winner Andruw Jones on Julio Borbon's sinking liner in the sixth, a Derek Jeter jump-throw from the hole on Adrian Beltre's grounder to end the seventh and a diving stab of Chris Davis' line drive to start the third.
"We have a tremendous defense," Nova said. "I wanted to throw strikes and let my defense work behind me."
Soriano came on to face Davis, who struck out on three pitches. Borbon, however, sent a single to right that cut the Yankees' lead to 4-1. Ian Kinsler flew softly to right to end the inning, and Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth for his 12th save.
Nova (3-2, 4.08) had rough starts in his second and third outings of the year but has pushed those into the background, as well as the speculation he might be headed back to the minors, his last three times out.
The righthander went 61/3 innings in each of his previous two starts, allowing a combined three runs, then outdid himself Friday night as he might have also pushed to the backburner concerns about how deep into games he can go. A continual problem last season was Nova getting through lineups the first and second time before faltering.
"You see him growing in front of us," Girardi said. "That's what you want to see from young pitchers. Now he's shown himself he can do it and I think that's important for his confidence."
Granderson hit a two-run homer off Matt Harrison in the first, giving the centerfielder four homers in 28 at-bats against lefties this season after hitting four home runs off lefthanders all of last season. He added a solo blast off righthander Ryan Tucker in the seventh to make it 4-0.
The Yankees had just five hits, none of them by their still-struggling designated hitter, Jorge Posada. Posada went 0-for-3 with a walk and is hitless in his last 11 at-bats, seeing his average drop to .149. Girardi made a point to pull the veteran, who hit three hard balls in Thursday's finale in Detroit, aside Friday to tell him to forget about the first month and that he was still the DH.
"You get here and you feel good and it's just really frustrating," Posada said. "I feel good at the plate with nothing to show for it . . . I told him [Girardi] after the game, thank you for sticking with me. He's been very supportive."