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Nova knows he must be Super in Toronto

Strong performance can help struggling righty's case for a playoff rotation spot
09/27/2012 2:10 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Ivan Nova was the starter for the deciding Game 5 of the Yankees' 2011 ALDS against Detroit.(AP)
Ivan Nova is 12-7 with a 4.94 ERA this season and 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his last three starts against Toronto. But when he takes the hill to face the Jays tonight at Rogers Centre, it will be his latest start that means the most, in more ways than one.

Of course, with Baltimore off, Nova has a chance to help the Yankees push their lead over the Orioles in the AL East up to two games and bring them ever closer to a playoff berth – but in doing so, Nova can also potentially impact where he fits if and when the Bombers do make it to the postseason.

As it stands right now, it seems that CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Andy Pettitte are locked in as the Yankees’ top three starters for the playoffs, leaving Nova and Phil Hughes battling to see who would be the fourth starter, a role that could be vitally important, especially in the AL Division Series where it only takes three wins (or three losses) to move on.

When you compare the numbers, you might give Nova a slight edge over Hughes (16-13, 4.10 in 31 starts), especially given the facts that Nova turned in a strong performance in the rain-suspended Game 1 of the 2011 ALDS against Detroit and Hughes was a very strong part of the bridge to Mariano Rivera in 2009, leaving tendency to think both could do the same again in 2012.

But baseball is a game of “what have you done for me lately,” and while Hughes has won three of his last four starts and was robbed of a fourth by the bullpen on Tuesday, Nova has struggled in the second half.

Nova was 1-4 with a 7.28 ERA in eight second-half starts prior to going on the disabled list, and after recording a quality start and a win in his Sept. 15 return against Tampa Bay, he lasted just 2.1 innings against Oakland last Saturday, allowing three runs and leaving the bases loaded for reliever Clay Rapada – who spared Nova further damage by getting Josh Reddick to hit into a 1-2-3 double play.

Hughes, meanwhile, has five quality starts in his last eight outings, and after strong performances against both Boston (on Sept. 13) and Minnesota, many, including YES Network’s own Jack Curry, seem to believe that the former first-round pick has the edge over Nova for a postseason rotation spot.

Nova has two more chances to state his case, beginning tonight in Toronto against a team that has been reduced to playing spoiler. And with Hughes also scheduled to get his final start of 2012 against the Jays on Sunday, tonight’s performance could be weighed in multiple realms as Joe Girardi prepares to have to make a decision on who stays and who goes come October 4.

Ivan’s return to being “Super Nova” would be a good start, and history is on his side. Will fate be?

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