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Nova's ability to battle pleases Girardi

New York Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova throws during

New York Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova throws during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. (Feb. 18, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

TAMPA, Fla. -- Ivan Nova entered spring training with a big opportunity in front of him but, in his mind, very little pressure.

"If you put pressure on yourself, you're not going to do the team any [good],'' Nova said. "I just came here to pitch and do a really good job so I could make the team. That's the only way you can do that. If you put pressure on yourself, you're not going to do well.''

Nova ended up doing quite well, overcoming a hiccup here and there to win one of the open pitching spots in the Yankees' rotation. Joe Girardi announced that Nova, 24, will start the season as his No. 4, with Freddy Garcia as No. 5.

Nova went 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in four starts and no-hit the Orioles in his six innings March 11. It was exactly what the Yankees hoped Nova, who went 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA last season in 10 outings (seven starts), would do in spring training -- seize the opportunity presented him.

What most stood out to Girardi, and ultimately won Nova the spot, was that the Baltimore outing came five days after a rough start against Toronto in which he allowed two runs, five hits and two walks in three innings.

"He really struggled against Toronto and he bounced back," Girardi said, "and then it was apparent, OK, his stuff is back."

Girardi also took note of Nova's start Friday against the Astros. He didn't have his best stuff but still allowed only two runs and three hits in six innings. To Girardi, that showed maturity.

"I think maybe his most impressive outing might have been last night, because he was off," Girardi said Saturday morning. "But he found a way to get through it. To me, that was the best start that he's had."

He said Friday: "You're not always going to have your 'A' stuff and be sharp, and you have to figure out how to do it. You don't want to see a guy struggle, but when they do and get through it, that's a good thing.''

Nova said the biggest difference this year is the "confidence" he has in himself. And he's noticed something about the team: "It seems like they have a lot of confidence in me."

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