The Yankees haven’t clinched anything yet, and this is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable Septembers ever. Unlike so many years past, every game counts, so manager Joe Girardi needs to worry about winning the rest of the regular season games before making any playoff decisions.
Take the rotation, for example. Within the same week, Ivan Nova and Andy Pettitte returned to the team following respective stints on the disabled list. Their fill-ins, David Phelps and Freddy Garcia, were then relegated to the bullpen. In his two starts since returning, Pettitte has looked every bit the veteran that he is, pitching 11 innings and giving up no runs.
Nova, however, is a different story. Sometimes he looks so sharp, like his first start after coming off the DL down in Tampa, when he gave up only two runs and struck out eight. But too many other times he falls flat, like his subsequent two starts, in which he pitched a total of seven innings and surrendered seven runs. Another problem with Nova is that he is also often in denial about his pitching; in post-game interviews, he will often say things like, “I thought I was pitching well.”
Nova is supposed to make Tuesday’s start against Boston, a game that will most likely matter a great deal; it is unlikely that the Yankees will clinch the division before then since their magic number is five. And make no mistake: they’re not settling for a wild card. So is Nova the best choice given his recent ineffectiveness?
Girardi insists he’s sticking with Nova for Tuesday’s start, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to get the ball in the playoffs. In the short ALDS (provided they get there) managers often cut back to a four or even three-man rotation. CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Pettitte would be definite, with Phil Hughes as a fourth. Nova has allowed 87 extra base hits this season, leading the league with the most ever given up by a Yankee.
But as stated earlier, the Yankees have to first slay the dragon that lies in front of them. Nova deserves a shot on Tuesday, but Girardi should keep him on a very short leash. At the first sign of trouble Girardi should make the call to Phelps. Phelps has been a chameleon this season, going 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA and stepping into just about any role Girardi has needed: starter, long man, set-up man, mop-up duty. He’ll no doubt be a valuable commodity in the bullpen during the playoffs.
After Wednesday’s stinker in Toronto, in which he failed to pitch out of the fourth, Nova was uncharacteristically self-reflective, saying, “Unfortunately this year has been really bad for me, but I’m not quitting. I gotta keep fighting.”
This year has been rather unkind to the 25-year-old from the Dominican Republic. After a stellar 16-4 rookie season, Nova has posted a 12-8 record, which doesn’t sound bad until you glance over at the ERA column (it’s over five).
With the playoffs looming, Girardi is going to have many important decisions to make. The Yankees don’t have the luxury of a large lead this season, and there will be no rest, mental or physical, for the weary in the meantime.