Nova working his way back to rotation

When is a losing pitcher a winner? In cases like Ivan Nova Sunday. Yes, the righthander took the losing decision in a 3-1 Yankees setback to the Rays and, yes, he was pretty much responsible. The runners who scored the deciding runs in the seventh inning both reached base when Nova hit them with pitches.

Oh, yes, that was a big ouch, more so for the Yankees than those two players, Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist. It put a dark shadow on an otherwise good day for Nova, who put himself back in the rotation mix although it is unclear to what degree.

“I don’t know,” manager Joe Girardi said when asked what the next step is for Nova.

It was a logical question. Nova started Sunday because of an opening in the rotation caused by Tuesday night’s rainout that forced Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes to double-up Wednesday against the Dodgers. With Monday’s open date, the Yankees will go back in rotation against the Rangers. Hughes has been pushed back to Thursday night because Girardi wants to keep Kuroda and Andy Pettitte on their regular turns Tuesday and Wednesday nights, respectively.

Despite the two hit batters, the Yankees’ loss Sunday had less to do with him than an offense that continues to struggle. When you see Ichiro Suzuki attempting to sacrifice in the first inning with a runner already on second base, you know the manager figures runs are hard to come by. Ichiro actually popped the bunt up into an out, but Brett Gardner got to third base anyway on a wild pitch by Chris Archer and scored on a sacrifice fly by Robinson Cano.

But that was it for the rest of the afternoon as an Old-Timers’ Day crowd of 46,054 at Yankee Stadium came away disappointed after being entertained by a five-inning exhibition fracas of the franchise’s former starts over past decades.

Nova kept the Yankees in the game until the seventh. He gave up a run in the first but got a big double play to get out of the inning with no more damage. Nova allowed seven hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. The hit batters came after two were out with the score 1-1.

The normally reliable bullpen failed to come through. Righthander Shawn Kelley walked Evan Longoria loaded the bases before Girardi turned to lefthander Boone Logan against left-handed swinging first baseman James Loney, who singled in two runs.

It was Nova’s first appearance for the Yankees since a very good relief outing against the Mets May 29 and his first start since April 26 against the Blue Jays. This was his longest appearance since he went 7 1/3 innings Aug. 11 last year at Toronto.

“He kept his fastball down and had a good chance and curveball,” Girardi noted. “Except for the hit batters, I thought he threw the ball very well. The way he pitched today makes it real hard [to make a decision].”

Nova does not want to be optioned back to Triple A Scranton the way Adam Warren was after his 85-pitch effort a week ago at Anaheim. That still remains an option. As Girardi said, he did not know. To his credit, Nova understands the situation.

“I don’t want to be sent down,” he said, “but once in a while it helps.”

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