Nova maturing with each start

Ivan Nova has gone from the Yankees’ No. 5 starter coming out of spring training to the point where now he is the rotation’s No. 2 starter. His 5-3 victory Monday night at Cincinnati improved Nova’s record to 7-4. Only ace CC Sabathia (9-4) has won more games than Nova.

Armed with a 4-0 lead before he took the mound, Nova overcame a shaky beginning when he gave up singles to the first two Reds batters to fashion his best outing of the season. Nova was quite willing to trade a run for two outs by getting 2010 National League Most Valuable Player Joey Votto to ground into a double play. Those were the first two of 15 consecutive outs Nova recorded before Paul Janish ended the string with a two-out single in the fifth. Nova retired nine of the last 10 batters before calling it a game after the eighth for the longest outing of his career.

Nova got 16 outs in the infield and struck out seven batters. Only two outs were to the outfield. Nova recorded 25 outs in eight innings, one more than necessary because Drew Stubbs reached on a third-strike wild pitch in the third. Nova had outstanding control. He did not walk a batter.

With Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon on the disabled list, Nova has been relied on to take up the slack in the rotation and for the most part has come through. He has won three straight starts and lowered his ERA to 4.13. The Elias Sports Bureau reports that Nova has a 7-1 career record in games when he has a lead of more than one run, and the Yankees are 11-1 in those games.

Nova’s blending in a changeup to go with his fastball, curve and slider has been a major factor in his current three-start winning streak. Yankees fans are getting to watch a young pitcher mature with each start.

With victories in nine of the past 11 games, the Yankees are 13 games above .500, their high mark of the season, and stayed within 1 ½ games of the first-place Red Sox in the American League East.

The Yankees got clicking in the first inning against Travis Wood, a last-minute replacement for scheduled Reds starter Johnny Cueto, who had a stiff neck and may start Tuesday night against Yankees rookie Brian Gordon.

Great American Ball Park is known as a bandbox, but the Yankees stayed in the yard and used four singles and a double to produce four runs in the top of the first. Their other run came in the eighth without a hit as Curtis Granderson walked, stole second, continued to third on an error by Janish at shortstop and scored on a wild pitch by reliever Jose Arredondo.

Things got a bit hairy in the ninth when Luis Ayala gave up a hit and Boone Logan hit a batter. Both runners scored, but Mariano Rivera restored order for his 18th save. After setting a three-game series attendance record over the weekend at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, the Yankees played to another full house Monday night at Cincinnati. The prime attractions of inter-league play are giving NL audiences their money’s worth.

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