By Neil Keefe
» More columns
After watching the Yankees lose for the last six days in every way possible, I was expecting the worst on Tuesday night. But with the slumping A-Rod homering twice, the terrible bunter Brett Gardner laying down a bunt single and the almost retired Jorge Posada getting two hits, I had to ask myself, “Is this real life?”
The Yankees ended their six-game slide and avoided hitting the .500 mark after being seven games over and in first place a week ago. And the man responsible for ending the losing streak and for holding down the Rays offense happened to be the person you would have expected the streak to extend to seven games against.
For the third time in his last five starts, Ivan Nova allowed one earned run or less with his refreshing performance against the Rays. Even though he only lasted 5 1/3 innings, it was good to see him bounce back with a solid effort after getting lit up by the Royals for eight runs (four earned) and 10 hits over three innings just five days ago.
At the beginning of the season, I thought Nova was just going to be a younger version of Sergio Mitre from 2009 when Mitre had to fill out the end of the rotation and relied heavily on the offense every five days. After going 1-1 with a 7.36 ERA in his first three starts, Nova is now 3-1 with a 2.54 ERA over his last five starts with the only blemish coming in that disastrous loss to the Royals last week.
I don’t know if Nova’s rotation spot was ever in serious question earlier in the season since the Yankees’ back-up plan (Bartolo Colon) is already in the rotation, and it never seemed like Kevin Millwood was really going to get a starting job unless another injury presented itself. But you would have to think there were at least preliminary talks about other options if Nova wasn’t able to build off his spring training performances and take the next step to becoming worthy of a rotation spot.
When you see Nova perform the way he did on Tuesday night and the way he has for the last three-plus weeks (again, minus the start against Kansas City), his future looks promising as part of this team. Nova still needs to work on adjusting the second and third time through opposing lineups, but he is beginning to look more confident in the fifth and sixth inning and has thrown his curveball with more conviction since supposedly working on the pitch while throwing with Freddy Garcia. I don’t completely trust Nova (I don’t know if anyone does yet) to go out every fifth and give the Yankees a “quality” start, but he’s gradually earning that trust after his last month.
It’s probably a not good thing that Nova is tied for the team lead in wins with four along with A.J. Burnett, and it’s also a scary thing, but to think the Yankees are only two games out of first place and still over .500 after their six-day slide is a way to look on the bright side. Nova of all the starters ended up being the one to stop the Yankees’ free fall, and now it’s up to the veterans to get this thing back on track. It starts with Bartolo and CC in Baltimore.
Are the Yankees about to turn it around? Comment below.