NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — So it wasn’t an official announcement, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi all but put a stamp on Ivan Nova’s spot in the rotation on Wednesday.

“He’s been one of our best five guys,” Girardi said before the Yankees’ 9-3 win over the Angels, adding he “wouldn’t say that” Nova is still pitching for his job in the big leagues.

Nova (11-4) took over the big league lead in wins for rookies, allowing three runs and five hits in six innings. The young starter has been on fire since his recall from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last month.

“I think he took it as a challenge and said, ‘This is going to be the last time you send me down,'” said Girardi.

But who’s the odd man out? CC Sabathia admitted recently that he’s no fan of the six-man rotation, and Girardi said last night that the team has to “eventually get down to five.”

“Sometimes it’s not easy to just move one piece and say, ‘That’s it.’ Because you’ve got to worry about how it affects everything you do,” Girardi said. “Some guys are maybe a little more suited, if you do decide to move someone to the ‘pen, than others. Those are all things we have to take into account.”

The best move might be to put erratic starter A.J. Burnett in the bullpen. Or Phil Hughes, no stranger to relief duty, who is coming off an early-season “dead arm” period.

Many have speculated that Burnett, 0 for August, doesn’t have the mental makeup for New York. Though he certainly has the “stuff” to be effective, a long-term stint in the pen may not be the best move for his psyche.

“Whenever you’re trying to get the most out of players, how it affects them mentally is also part of it, too,” said Girardi. “You just can’t throw that out. Because last time I checked, we don’t plug them in and charge them up. They’re not robots. They’re human beings, with feelings and emotions. And it’s our job to manage that, too.”

Nova walked three without a strikeout one start after he fanned 10 without a walk. He hasn’t lost in eight starts since June 3, against the Angels, and has won all three since he was recalled from Triple-A in late July.

“I think he’s made great strides since last year as a starter,” Girardi said. “I think he’s become more consistent. He’s developed another pitch.”

That new slider of Nova’s has been a strength. One of the few times he threw it, however, he gave up Peter Bourjos’ solo home run in the fifth.

No big deal. He got the last out of the inning and set down the top of the Angels’ order before finally running out of steam in the seventh, when he let the first four batters reach. He tipped his cap to appreciative fans as he walked off the field.

“He has really good stuff,” the Angels’ Torii Hunter said. “The Yankees really have something special with him.”

Speaking of which — Nova was asked if he’d been thinking pitching his way into the postseason rotation. He made 10 appearances last season with New York, including seven late-season starts, before he was left off the playoff roster.

“Um, we are like a month and a half away,” Nova said, dismissing the question. “I just got to keep my mind on what I want I have to do in five days.”

Who should the Yankees send packing to the bullpen? Make your pick in the comments below…

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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