ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When Ivan Nova takes the ball against Tampa Bay on Friday night at Tropicana Field, he knows it’s a showcase game that could well be his last as a Yankee before Monday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline. But like the rest of his teammates, Nova insisted his focus is strictly on doing all he can to convince management to keep the team together for a playoff drive.
“We don’t want this group to separate,” Nova said before the Yankees lost Wednesday night’s series finale in Houston. “We want to stay together. Especially, the way we’ve played lately, we feel we have a chance. At the end of the day, they’re the ones that are going to make the decision. But the way we play will influence a lot.”
The Yankees have won three straight series, but they will begin play Friday night 3 1⁄2 games out of the second wild-card spot. Nova is one of several Yankees, including reliever Andrew Miller, starter Michael Pineda and outfielders Carlos Beltran and Brett Gardner, who might draw considerable interest as the trade deadline approaches.
If general manager Brian Cashman and owner Hal Steinbrenner decide to go into full rebuilding mode, Miller and Beltran, in particular, could bring a haul of prospects. But Nova said the Yankees’ recent play is an indication of their desire to keep battling together.
“I think those guys just want to help the team win games,” Nova said. “If you start thinking ‘What are they going to do? What are they not going to do?’ you won’t be able to do your job. We have to play good enough to make it hard on them to break us up.”
Nova (7-5, 4.65 ERA) is 2-0 with a 2.66 ERA in his past four starts and allowed one earned run or none in three of them. More importantly, he’s headed for free agency after this season, and the Yankees would have to make a qualifying offer in the vicinity of $16.5 million to have a chance to keep him. If they trade him, his place in the rotation could be taken by Adam Warren or Luis Severino.
Warren was reacquired in Monday’s trade of closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs, a deal that was expected but still was upsetting to many Yankees.
“I think everybody maybe had an idea he was one of the first guys that was going to get traded, especially because he’s a free agent at the end of the year,” Nova said of Chapman. “He’s a great teammate, a lot of energy. It has been tough the first days. In the sixth inning, you’re getting ready to see the ‘three-headed monster’ [Dellin Betances, Miller and Chapman]. Now we miss one.”
With three games against the 39-61 Rays, there’s no mistaking the opportunity the Yankees have to make an upward move.
“I think it’s really big because you’ve got to keep the momentum going,” manager Joe Girardi said.
Asked if there’s potential for a letdown against one of the worst teams in baseball, Girardi said, “No, I don’t think so. The guys know how important these next three days are. It’s great when every game has so much meaning.”
Girardi acknowledged that Nova would increase his trade value with a strong performance but said it’s all good for the Yankees if he helps them win. Nova made it clear that he not only wants to win but wants to do it with the Yankees.
Describing the Rays series, Nova said, “It’s going to be huge for us, it’s going to be huge.”