We are two weeks into the season and we have our first pitching enigma. Ivan Nova was supposed to breakout this season. He earned the right to the third spot in the starting rotation, but now that spring training is over Nova has looked average at best. On Tuesday Nova gave up 7 earned runs in just 3.2 innings. With outings like this, how are the Yankees supposed to trust Nova to start 30+ times this year?
All pitchers have bad outings. It’s simply a part of the game. However, what makes Nova so frustrating is the extreme differences and frequencies between his great starts and his terrible ones. Nova has the stuff to go out and throw a complete game shutout every time he steps to the mound. He also has an equal chance to go out and throw a 4 inning stinker. The back and forth is a momentum killer not just for the team that day, but could ruin a winning streak and change how the entire team is performing.
Nova’s biggest problem Tuesday was that he was too accurate. Yes, too accurate. Nova threw 45 of his 61 pitches for strikes, a 74% strike percentage. While it’s fantastic when a pitcher doe not walk batters, as Nova did, Nova did it at the expense of missing the plate at all. He turned the 17 inch wide plate into about a foot wide. When a pitcher avoids the corners of the plate, he’s essentially throwing meatballs down the plate. Nova was hitting way too much of the plate and Baltimore did not relent. Learning to use the corners, even if it results in a walk here and there, will keep batters off balance and help eliminate all those earned runs.
The other issue Nova had Tuesday was leaving pitches up in the zone. This can result from not finishing off his follow through, trying to overthrow, or both. In short, his consistency is never around and it may soon cost him his starting job.
If I am Joe Girardi, I quickly swap Michael Pineda and Nova, moving Nova to the 5th spot in the rotation. If his struggles continue, there are guys like Vidal Nuno, David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Dellin Betances scratching to take the spot from him. By the end of April, Girardi needs to make some kind of move. The Yankees cannot afford to make 20% of their games a complete guess.