In the bullpen before tonight’s game, Ivan Nova’s curveball was erratic. He’d throw one for a strike, then sail one out of the zone. Without a good feel for his primary breaking ball, Nova started warming up a reworked slider that he hadn’t been using this spring. It was sharp and consistent, and when Nova carried it into the game, he used it on three of his four strikeouts…
…Nova threw a slider last year, but it wasn’t especially effective, so he tried to learn a cutter. The pitch he meant to be a cutter, actually behaves like the slider he was trying to throw in the first place. Nova calls it a slider, but said he throws it like a cutter and tries to think “cutter” when he uses it.
“My slider is like a new toy,” he said. “I have to start playing with it some time, not too much, but I feel comfortable with all my pitches.”
This is the type of things that pitchers have to do when they get to this level that a lot of young pitchers struggle with. Just look at Phil Hughes, in the minors he got by largely on a fastball/curveball combo, but since he’s been promoted to the big leagues he’s worked to add a cutter and to a lesser extent a changeup.
Nova has never been a big prospect, but he can turn himself into a legit major leaguer if he can develop new ways to attack hitters. Just coming at them with the same old stuff generally doesn’t work as hitters will adapt. If the pitcher is adapting right along with them, that’s how you stick in the big leagues.
Last night’s start was amazing. Aside from the first hitter of the game, which he hit with a pitch, Nova was perfect through six innings. Now spring stats don’t mean a whole lot so his line alone doesn’t mean much. The fact that he made such a big adjustment from his previous start, by keeping the ball down more, and he has been able to work a new pitch into his repertoire so successfully makes me think that last night’s start won him a rotation job.
Last year it was Hughes’ changeup that helped him get a leg up over Joba Chamberlain and the other pitchers working for a rotation spot. The Yankees are likely going to site something similar in Nova this time around when they explain why he beat out one of the other veterans for a job.
What do you think? Did Nova win himself a starting spot last night? Or should he still start the season in the minors/bullpen until one of the veterans proves he can’t get the job done.