FORT MYERS, Fla. — If you go just by the numbers, on Sunday Ivan Nova lost some of his big lead over CC Sabathia in the race for the Yankees’ fifth starter job.
Nova allowed four runs in 4 1⁄3 innings in the Yankees’ 6-4 win over the Twins at Hammond Stadium. His ERA rose from 2.00 to 4.05. He gave up five hits, walked three and struck out two.
Sabathia has an ERA of 7.36. All things being equal, he would seem to have the edge because of his track record, his lefthandedness and his $25-million salary. Until Sunday, all things had not been equal. Nova had been outpitching Sabathia by a lot. Now Sabathia will get a chance to close the gap even further when he starts Thursday against Tampa Bay.
“I think you take the whole body of work,” manager Joe Girardi said of spring training. “But obviously you put a little more weight on these last few starts.”
The two pitchers are equal in one aspect: Neither is treating his starts as a make-or-break for the rotation spot. They are focusing on feeling healthy and feeling good about their stuff.
“Numbers don’t matter,” Nova said. “I feel good. The command was OK, not like the last two starts that I had, but I feel good.”
Why does he think numbers don’t matter?
“Because I’m not the one making the decision anyway,” Nova said. “I’ve been [saying] that for the whole spring training. Of course I want to pitch good personally, but I cannot sit here now and hit my head against the wall because I pitched bad. I think that you worry about how you feel.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to feel good about yourself, that you did your job. They’re going to take their time and announce it whenever they feel comfortable. Whoever wins that spot, I’m going to be happy.”
Nova, a free agent at season’s end, allowed two runs in the second inning on a pair of run-scoring groundouts and two in the fifth on Joe Mauer’s single.
“I thought he battled,” Girardi said. “I didn’t think he had his good off-speed stuff today and I thought he fought through it. I thought he tired a little bit at the end, which is kind of to be expected, but overall, he had a decent day.”
In his last two starts, Nova has been using a cutter that he junked in 2012 because it bothered his elbow. He is in his second year back from Tommy John surgery and feels healthy enough to use the cutter again.
“He had good action on it the start against Boston and today,” catcher Brian McCann said. “It’s another weapon where it’s just going to complement his fastball.”
The loser of the fifth-starter battle will open the season in the bullpen. Nova has made seven relief appearances during the regular season, and Sabathia has made none.
Someone who would be thrilled to open the season in the Yankees’ bullpen is righthander Bryan Mitchell, who made his case again Sunday. Mitchell, who the Yankees hope can be this year’s Adam Warren, threw 2 2⁄3 scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 0.86.