Nova supplies another gem

Considering the recent struggles of CC Sabathia, the year-long inconsistency of Phil Hughes, the periodic problems suffered by Andy Pettitte and the arm injuries to David Phelps, how important has Ivan Nova been to the Yankees’ rotation? The answer is pretty simple – huge.

Nova pitched another gem Saturday night as the Yankees bounced back from Sabathia’s latest shaky outing for a 3-0 victory over the Padres. This was a pitchers’ duel for the first six innings of a game that started in the late afternoon Pacific time that made life difficult for the hitters.

Padres righthander Tyson Ross retired the first 13 batters he faced – six by strikeout – before Lyle Overbay singled with one down in the fifth to become the Yanks’ first base runner. Ross took a one-hit shutout into the seventh when the proverbial bloop and a blast seemed to unglue the pitcher.

After Alfonso Soriano led off with a flare single to center, Curtis Granderson turned around a 1-0 fastball for a home run to right field, his first hit since coming back from his second stint on the disabled list Friday night. Ross, who had not walked a batter to that point, promptly walked the next two hitters and then walked to the dugout as Padres manager Buddy Black made a move to the bullpen.

Nova, meanwhile, kept right on throwing up zeroes through the seventh inning. He had some early tight spots but worked out of them each time. He gave up a pair of one-out singles in the first inning and a leadoff double in the second but did not allow a run either time. Same thing in the seventh when Nova yielded another leadoff double; for the game the Padres were hitless in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position against Nova.

Once again, the righthander had a very effective curve and a well-spotted fastball, which have sustained him over the past 10 weeks of solid pitching. Since coming off the disabled list in late May after recovering from an inflamed right triceps, Nova is 4-3 with a 2.08 ERA in 56 1/3 innings. He has allowed 45 hits and 15 walks with 56 strikeouts over that stretch. Opponents have hit only .216 off Nova since then. In his past five starts, Nova has pitched to a 1.66 ERA. He has looked every bit like the pitcher the Yankees thought he would turn into after a 16-4 rookie season in 2011.

The Yankees picked up a gift insurance run in the ninth for Mariano Rivera, who earned his 35th save. Why was the run a gift? Well, for a change the Yankees benefit from a bad umpiring call rather than being victimized, which they were at least twice Friday night and have been quite often over the course of the season.

The break came when Granderson, who led off the ninth with a single, hustled to get back to first base on a fly ball to center field by Overbay on a hit-and-run play. Granderson hit the brakes as the ball was caught by center fielder Alexi Amarista, who launched a tremendous throw to first baseman Yonder Alonso that appeared to have doubled-up Granderson. First base umpire Alonso Marquez thought otherwise and called Grandy safe. Video replays indicated the call was wrong.

The Yankees sure didn’t have to apologize. Granderson ended up stealing second base with two out and scored on a single through the right side by Jayson Nix. It was good to see Granderson get back into the mix after going 0-for-4 Friday night without getting the ball out of the infield.

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