When Ivan Nova was a rookie in 2010, CC Sabathia bought him a couple of suits to wear when the Yankees traveled.
It's a time-honored baseball tradition that the veteran players school the youngsters on how to behave and, yes, even how to dress like big-leaguers.
Sabathia chuckled Wednesday night when he recalled his clothes encounter with the neophyte Nova. But Nova is a rookie no more; the way he's pitching these days, Sabathia said, "he definitely should be getting suits for the guys coming up now."
Nova (6-4, 2.99 ERA) was the winning pitcher as the Yankees won their fifth in six games, 11-3, over the Angels at Yankee Stadium.
Forget looking good in a suit: Nova looks better on the mound in pinstripes.
The 26-year-old righthander went 71/3 innings and allowed 10 hits and three runs with no walks, one hit batter and six strikeouts. He wasn't super-sharp -- 21 of his first 46 pitches were balls -- but the resurgent Nova was greatly aided when the suddenly robust Yankees offense started the evening with a pair of four-run innings.
"I don't pitch with a lead like that in a long time," Nova said.
Nova started the season with a 6.48 ERA in four starts. Since returning on May 25 from a month on the disabled list with an inflamed right triceps, he is 5-3 with a 2.17 ERA in 11 appearances (eight starts). He has thrown at least seven innings and allowed three earned runs or fewer in seven consecutive starts.
"I think he's better," Sabathia said. "I think every time you go through some adversity and some struggles, it makes you better. I think he's tougher mentally. Obviously, his stuff is back to where it was before he got hurt."
Asked what he meant by "tougher mentally," Sabathia said: "Making pitches. In every game, you get into some spots where it's first and second, no outs. Runners on second and third, two outs. You've got to make pitches and just be able to slow the game down mentally and get yourself in the right mind process to make a right pitch. That's just what being mentally tough is to me. I think it takes a while when you're young."
It also helps that Nova is not getting tattooed by extra-base hits. Wednesday night, he gave up nine singles and one double. In 871/3 innings, he has allowed only 17 extra-base hits; last year he set a dubious Yankees record by giving up 87 in 1701/3 innings en route to a 5.02 ERA in 28 starts.
Still, Nova won, going 12-8, and his 34-16 career record as a starter is good for a .680 winning percentage. The notion of starting pitchers being solely responsible for wins and losses has been debunked as baseball statistics have become more sophisticated, but the idea that a pitcher can have a knack for wins shouldn't be ignored, either. If it exists, Nova seems to have it.
"Nova can be a top-of-the-rotation guy for anybody, I think," Sabathia said. "Just keep working, keep getting better, and he could be good."
Sabathia and Nova are the only Yankees starters who are certain to be on the team in 2014. Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes will be free agents and Andy Pettitte may decide to retire again. In that scenario, Nova becoming what Hughes was supposed to be -- young and reliable -- is imperative for the Yankees.
And about the suits?
Nova said he's just about ready to buy them for the next generation of Yankees pitchers.
"Yes," he said. "Next year. Next year."