Back in Spring Training, Nova was the odds on favorite to win a spot in the back of the rotation. Having been called up for a while in 2010, Nova had been okay at the big league level, if not necessarily good. His biggest problem had been an inability to pitch deep into ball games. But he was young and big-league ready, and the competition was Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, so Nova was going to get his chance. He looked pretty good in his spring outings, but things weren’t exacty wine and roses at the beginning of the season for Nova, who ended the month of May with a 4.67 ERA in 54 innings over 10 starts and one relief appearance in Toronto. His ability to go deep into the game was again a problem, as he finished the 7th inning in just one start in that time frame, while failing to complete the 5th inning four times.
The low point of the season was his start in Seattle on May 28th when, facing the lowly Mariners, Nova allowed 4 runs and 5 hits while walking 3 batters in just 3.2 innings. At that point, people began openly speculating about Nova losing his spot in the rotation. Nova responded with a solid start in Anaheim, followed by a very good 7 inning, 2 run effort against the Indians at home. Nova would have a series of mostly solid outings over the month of June, including an 8 inning gem in Cincinnati, but when Phil Hughes was ready to come off of the disabled list, there was little question that Nova was the odd man out. He was the guy with options, and he wasn’t significantly out-pitching Garcia, so Nova was optioned to Triple-A Scranton.
Nova used the time in the minors to work on his secondary pitchers, namely his cutter, and when he was pressed back into service in the majors thanks to a double header at the end of July, Nova served notice that he had no intention of letting the Yankees send him back to the minors. From that point on, he was like a brand new pitcher. He pitched 66.2 innings over his last 11 starts with a 3.49 ERA in the span to bring his season total down to 3.70. What’s more, he finished the 7th inning in seven of those 11 starts. By about the middle of September, there was no doubt that Nova would be the Yankees’ second starter in the postseason, a fact that would have been downright unbelievable in March.
All in all, Nova logged 27 starts and 165.1 innings this year, finishing with a pitcher slash line of 3.70/4.01/4.16 (ERA/FIP/xFIP). Nova probably got a little lucky, given his dodgy peripherals, and there’s a good chance he’ll regress to being more of a middle-to-back of the rotation pitcher next year, but he was certainly a vital cog in the Yankee machine this year, and he’ll likely get some Rookie of the Year votes thanks to his high win total to boot.