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Postgame Notebook: Nova earns the praise of his catcher and his manager

06/23/2013 7:15 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Ivan Nova tossed 6 2/3 innings of three-run ball in his return to the Majors on Sunday.(AP)
The Yankees couldn't pull out two crowd-pleasers on Old-Timers' Day, falling 3-1 to the Rays in the Major League portion of the day's festivities.

Ivan Nova, making his first Major League start since April 26, threw 6 2/3 strong innings in his return, but the bullpen couldn't bail him out of his final jam.

Still, 68 of Nova's 103 pitches were for strikes, and manager Joe Girardi was pleased with what he saw from the "emergency" starter.

"I thought he was really good," Girardi said of Nova. "In the first inning his fastball was up but he kept it down most of the day and got a lot of swings and misses on it, and I thought his curveball was good today, so I was very pleased."

Nova's first run came in that first, when Matt Joyce led off with a single and scored on Ben Zobrist's single, but he wiggled out of trouble the same way he would in the sixth -- with a timely double play.

In the seventh, however, Nova got two outs before hitting Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist. He was left to watch from the dugout as Boone Logan surrendered what would be the game-winning single to James Loney on a slider that stayed up.

"It's tough, and we didn't score a lot of runs today, which made it more difficult," Girardi said of the seventh inning. "He got two outs, then hit Jennings with a fastball and hits Zobrist with two strikes, that's the frustrating part. We had opportunities to get out of the inning and just didn't do it."

Despite that, Nova and catcher Chris Stewart also felt good about the righty's performance.

"I felt good, it's not how I wanted it, but after sitting for eight days I felt good and did my best," Nova said. "I feel good about the way I pitched today, but that's the game."

"He was consistently throwing strikes with everything he had," Stewart said. "His fastball was sinking, he was able to put guys away with his curveball and he was throwing strikes and getting them off their game. The pitch where he hit [Jennings], his arm slot got a little out of whack, but he went deep in the game and did a really good job for us."

Nova, whose start was necessitated by the Yankees' doubleheader on Wednesday, said he thought he pitched well enough to stay in the Major Leagues. But he admitted that "you never want to get sent down, but sometimes it helps." Girardi then said that he was unsure of Nova's future status, but wouldn't rule out the thought that the righty could take a back-end rotation spot away from someone.

"You see the way he pitched today, it made it real hard," Girardi said. "As I've talked about, every time you go out there, it's an opportunity to show what you can do, and this is a game where you have to prove yourself over and over."

Other news and notes from Old-Timers' Day:

-- Stewart said that Nova throwing more fastballs early was by design, saying that "you never want to show them everything the first time through," and that he hopes Nova takes the positive strides he made today with him going forward.

"Repeating his mechanics has been a problem in the past, but for the most part it was good today," Stewart said. "I just wanted to make sure he was throwing his fastballs in the zone and getting ahead."

-- The catcher was lifted for pinch-hitter Vernon Wells for the second straight day, but this time, Wells didn't have the magic against Jake McGee, flying out to left field in an at-bat that Stewart said was a microcosm of the way things have been of late.

"You want to put at-bats together and we're doing that, but we're not getting the big hit every night," he said. "That's to be expected, but credit to [Rays starter Chris Archer], he did a good job and kept us off the board and the bullpen did too."

-- David Adams went 0-for-4 to drop his batting average below .200, but Girardi said the youngster will have a chance to work through some struggles that may be caused in part by the sporadic nature of his playing time over the last month.

"We're gonna keep running him out there," Girardi said. "He hasn't played as regularly lately as he did early on, so hopefully the regular playing time will help him."

-- Phil Hughes will pitch Thursday on eight days' rest, and both Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte will go on an extra day on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We want to keep the veteran guys closer to a regular turn," Girardi said, "so Phil will get a couple extra bullpen sessions for him and we'll get him back out there Thursday."

-- Last word goes to the skipper, speaking on momentum: "We had some momentum on the West Coast trip and then went into Oakland and lost some tough games. Then it seemed like we had it again here, but we lost another tough one today. We have an off-day tomorrow, and we'll regroup. We're going into a stretch of 20 games in a row before the break, and all of those games are extremely important."

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