ATLANTA (AP) — Ivan Nova said he didn’t have his best stuff, yet he was a big hit — even at the plate — in leading the New York Yankees back into first place.
Nova combined with four relievers on a five-hitter and the Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves 3-0 on Monday night to claim a share of first place in the AL East for the first time in seven weeks.
“Who would have thought it?” Yankees manager Joe Girardi asked. “I think there’s a lot of parity in the American League this year and I think there are a lot of good teams who are going to beat up on each other.
“Our guys have done a good job of enduring some things. We’ve had some key injuries and we’ve been able to figure things out a little bit. Guys have stepped up and we just have to keep going.”
Raul Ibanez led off the second inning with a homer and Robinson Cano had two hits, including a run-scoring single in the first. The surging Yankees climbed into a tie with idle Tampa Bay for the division lead, their first return to first place since April 24.
Nova (8-2) gave up five hits with one walk and six strikeouts in seven innings for his fourth straight win.
“Our starting pitching has been really good, and that’s how you put streaks together,” Girardi said.
The Braves didn’t have a baserunner reach third base, but Nova said his command was inconsistent.
“I don’t have my best stuff today, but I made pitches when I needed it,” Nova said.
“My command of the fastball wasn’t there. Sometimes I wanted to go inside on lefties and I left the ball over the plate. … When you don’t have your best stuff, you have to fight.”
Nova added a milestone with a second-inning single for his first career hit. He said the ball from his first hit will earn a place of honor beside souvenirs from his first win and first strikeout.
“When I was little, I wanted to be a big league hitter,” Nova said, adding his favorite hitter was Vladimir Guerrero.
The Yankees (35-25) have won four straight games and nine of 11 to move a season-best 10 games over .500. The Braves, held without an extra-base hit, have lost two straight after their season-best six-game winning streak.
Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada combined for three straight outs in the eighth. Cory Wade struck out Martin Prado to open the ninth and left-hander Boone Logan recorded the final two outs.
Girardi said he held out closer Rafael Soriano, who developed “a little blister” on his right index finger while pitching on Sunday against the Mets.
“He said he was OK, but I’m not comfortable,” Girardi said. “So give him one more day.”
Randall Delgado (4-6) set a career-high with six walks as he allowed three runs and five hits in five innings. The control problems pushed up his pitch count early. He threw 66 pitches while giving up a run in each of the first three innings.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said the 22-year-old was pumped up for the big-game atmosphere.
“He was excited,” Gonzalez said. “He was coming out of his delivery, first time facing the New York Yankees and (42,669) in the stands. I think he got himself a little amped up for today’s game.”
Delgado agreed, saying “Yes. New York Yankees. We respect them. They’ve got a lot of tradition.”
Cano’s first-inning single drove in Alex Rodriguez, who doubled off the wall in left. Rodriguez walked in the third, moved to third on Cano’s double and scored on Delgado’s wild pitch.
Atlanta’s leadoff hitters had singles in four of the first five innings. None advanced past second base as Nova was helped by double plays in the first and third innings.
Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher took a possible homer away from Brian McCann in the fourth. Swisher reached up to snap McCann’s fly ball in front of the yellow line at the top of the wall. It was McCann’s second long out. His first-inning drive was caught at the 400-foot mark in center field by Curtis Granderson.
Braves centerfielder Michael Bourn, running toward left field, made a diving catch to take a hit from Ibanez in the seventh.
Right-hander Cory Gearrin threw two scoreless innings for Atlanta after he was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett.
The Braves are 0-9 on Mondays this season.
Atlanta’s Matt Diaz, who struck out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth, was ejected by home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez in the ninth when he continued to argue from the dugout about a called strike in the at-bat.
NOTES: Yankees LHP Andy Pettitte said his left hand is fine. Pettitte snared a grounder from the Mets’ Scott Hairston with the bare hand on Sunday. Pettitte no longer wore the bandage he had on the hand after Sunday’s game. He is not expected to miss a start. … RHP Tim Hudson, who had his start skipped Sunday due to painful bone spurs in his right ankle, threw well in the bullpen and was officially added to the Braves’ rotation for Wednesday’s game against the Yankees. … Gearrin was recalled to replace RHP Julio Teheran, who made a fill-in start for Hudson on Sunday. … Yankees LHP CC Sabathia will make his third career start against the Braves, his first with the Yankees, when he faces LHP Mike Minor in Game 2 of the series on Tuesday night.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)