More of this please, Nova? (Image: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE)

Nova Stunning in Return; Yankees Keep Pace in AL East Race

If you could sum up the Yankees 2012 season so far, it would be inconsistent. No one has personified that more than Ivan Nova this year. However, Nova was sparkling in his return from the DL in an important game against the Tampa Bay Rays. He gave up only two runs while striking out eight and walking off to a standing ovation in the sixth inning in a 5-3 win this afternoon.

Those numbers don’t tell the entire story about Nova’s outing today. What has ailed him all season – lack of location – was actually his greatest asset today. He was able to use both sides of the plate, run his fastball up to 95 mph and compliment it with great offspeed stuff. All in all, he looked like the 2011 version of himself, not the awful 2102 edition, with a final line: 6+ innings, four hits, two earned runs, two walks, eight strikeouts, and one home run allowed.

Nova wasn’t the only one who saw a resurgence. Curtis Granderson started the scoring with a bang when he launched a two-run home run off James Shields in the bottom of the second. It’s his 39th home run of the season. Perhaps more telling is the fact that he’s hit five home runs in his last six games. Shields, on the very next batter, gave up a solo shot to Eduardo Nunez, who has played shortstop since Derek Jeter‘s leg injury in the Boston series. Nunez has played great defense and has pitched in some offense too since being recalled when rosters expanded.

The bottom of the fifth saw the Yankees tack on to their three-run lead when Jeter drove in Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro worked a walk after fighting off a few tough pitches, then proceeded to steal his 21st base of the season, where Jeter then grounded a pitch up the middle for an RBI single.

However, trouble started brewing in the sixth inning for the Yankees when Evan Longoria drove a pitch into the right center field seats, putting the Rays on the board. Nova came back out in the seventh inning and promptly gave up a single to Jeff Keppinger, after which Joe Girardi immediately yanked him in favor of  Boone Logan. The southpaw induced a groundball for an out, but also gave up an double to Ryan Roberts.

With runners at second and third with one out, Girardi brought in Joba Chamberlain, who made a great play on a comebacker for the second out. But, he then gave up a two-out single to Luke Scott, allowing both inherited runners to score, which has been a typical outcome for Joba since returning to the team.

Where the Yankees bats would normally shrivel up and not produce in the late innings, they added a run in the eighth inning after Alex Rodriguez singled home Robinson Cano, who doubled one batter earlier. It was an important insurance run for a bullpen that’s been very up-and-down in the second half. David Robertson came in and gave the Yankees a 1-2-3 eighth inning, and Rafael Soriano made things interesting in the ninth inning (giving up a single and a walk), but ultimately slammed the door shut and untucked for his 39th save of the year.

If there’s one aspect of this game we can draw aspirations from, it’s that the inconsistent players (Nova and Granderson) came up huge. If they can somehow get on a roll in these last few weeks of the season, the Yankees will be heading to the playoffs with the division in hand.

The Yankees are back at it tomorrow in an early afternoon game against the Rays. Hiroki Kuroda (13-10, 3.17 ERA) will take on young upstart Matt Moore (10-10, 3.68 ERA) in the rubber match of the three-game series

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