As if Yankees fans needed another reason to feel jittery about the team's rotation.
Before Friday night's game came the sobering news that Phil Hughes had been put on the disabled list with a "dead arm.''
A few hours later, Ivan Nova's right arm had plenty of life -- a bit too much, really. He delivered a wild performance in another far-too-short outing by a Yankees starter in a 5-3 loss to the Rangers at the Stadium.
Nova (1-1) was charged with five runs in 41/3 innings, allowing four hits and five walks, and had his ERA climb to 7.36 after three starts. "You have to get some distance out of your starters or you're going to wear your bullpen out,'' Joe Girardi said. "Especially if you start getting into streaks where you play a lot of games in a row. We've been blessed with some timely days off, but we do need to get some distance.''
Offensively, the Yankees were mostly handcuffed by lefthander Matt Harrison (3-0, 1.23), who allowed two runs (one earned) and seven hits in eight innings, including a long home run by Curtis Granderson in the eighth.
The Yankees, who outhit Texas 9-4, grounded into six double plays, which set a franchise record and tied the AL record. "That was the difference, probably, in the game,'' Girardi said. Four of the double plays came in the first five innings, including two in a span of three batters.
"We doubled their hit total tonight, so the ground ball was definitely a big reason [for the loss] tonight, but those things are going to happen,'' said Nick Swisher, who had an RBI single in the third and grounded into a double play in the eighth. "It's not going to take away our aggressiveness.''
The Yankees made it interesting in the ninth against closer Neftali Feliz, who came on with a 5-2 lead. Alex Rodriguez doubled with one out and scored on pinch hitter Eric Chavez's two-out single to make it 5-3. Jorge Posada walked to put the winning run at the plate, but Russell Martin flied to right to end it.
After a promising start April 4 in his season debut against the Twins, Nova turned in another poor outing. He allowed four runs, seven hits and three walks in 41/3 innings last Saturday in Boston and had worse command Friday night.
As reporters made their way to Nova's locker, pitching coach Larry Rothschild was there talking softly to him. "I'm not feeling really good right now,'' Nova said. "Last time out I didn't throw strikes in Boston and today I didn't throw strikes. I feel really bad.''
Nova said Rothschild's message was "to keep your head up'' and get ready to prepare for the next start.
To be sure, Hughes -- with a 13.94 ERA after three starts -- and Nova are a pair of 24-year-olds. Their careers are a long way from being defined. But the Yankees, with their rotation the biggest concern entering and leaving spring training, were counting on both to produce much more than they have to this point.
The Yankees, who will have Freddy Garcia make his season debut Saturday, are left with the reality that at this point, CC Sabathia is their lone dependable starter. Yes, A.J. Burnett is 3-0, but he also has a 4.67 ERA.
"It [distance] has to come from different starters,'' Girardi said. "We have to get it to where they can get there for us because you run out of innings. Your bullpen can only throw so many innings during the course of a season.''
The bullpen actually did a good job this time. David Robertson, Boone Logan and Lance Pendleton, a righty called up when Hughes was put on the DL and who made his major-league debut, pitched 42/3 scoreless, hitless innings. Pendleton finished up with three perfect innings.