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Ivan Nova sharp in Spring Training debut

03/02/2013 3:45 PM ET
By Jon Lane

Ivan Nova had everything working during his spring debut.(AP)
Anxious to rebound from a sophomore slump, Ivan Nova first has to secure a spot in the New York Yankees' starting rotation. His initial step towards that goal was a big one.

Nova shined in his Spring Training debut, threw 27 pitches in two scoreless innings, allowing a hit with a strikeout, as the Yankees returned to the win column by defeating the Detroit Tigers, 9-3, on Saturday in Tampa, Fla. The victory improved the Yankees' Grapefruit league record to 2-7.

Nova was 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA last season after a 16-4, 3.70 rookie campaign. He threw 11 pitches in a scoreless first, allowing only an infield hit while staying ahead in the count. David Phelps, the Yankees' other fifth-starter candidate, has made two spring starts, pitching five scoreless innings. The runner-up in the competition will likely pitch in long relief provided Phil Hughes (bulging disc) doesn't miss the start of the regular season.

If Nova continues to pitch like he did on Saturday, he'll find himself in the rotation. Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild intimated early last month that Nova had the inside track on the fifth starter's job based on his track record. Looking to recapture his 2011 form, Nova told YES' Meredith Marakovits that his game plan was to stay aggressive and frequently attack the hitters.

 "That's my main thing now," Nova said. "I just have to throw strikes, attack the hitters and let my teammates do the rest."

Brett Gardner, a very important player in terms of generating offense and run prevention, got the Yankees going with a leadoff single and stolen base. After advancing to third on Ichiro Suzuki's fly out to center, Gardner was left stranded thanks to nice defensive plays from the Tigers infield to take away hits from Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira.

The Tigers got on the board first in the third inning with Omar Infante's sacrifice fly against reliever David Aardsma. The Yankees responded in the bottom half when Cano whacked a single up the middle in the third to score Gardner and tie the game at 1. A bases-loaded walk to Travis Hafner gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead.

Detroit tied the game at two in the top of the fourth, but the Yankees responded again with Chris Stewart's two-run home run. After being ejected from Thursday's game, Stewart went 1-for-2 with two RBIs to keep pace with Francisco Cervelli (5 of 6 baserunners caught stealing) in the catching derby, and for good measure threw out Don Kelly trying to swipe second to end the top half of the sixth.

Matt Diaz, competing with Juan Rivera (.462, three doubles) and others for the temporary spot in left field, was 1-for-2 and caught looking with bases loaded to end the third. Gardner went 2-for-2 with two steals and is 8-for-14 (.571) in Spring Training. Cano and Teixeira head to the World Baseball Classic batting .278 (5-for-18) and .357 (5-for-14), respectively.

The Yankees next travel to Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday for a meeting with the Boston Red Sox, and the YES Network will once again be live on the air with full coverage beginning at 1 p.m.

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC

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