Despite coming away with a 4-game sweep of the Blue Jays, this past weekend was another costly one for the Yankees. In the span of just a few innings and probably less than an hour of real time, they lost both halves of their starting battery on Friday night, losing Francisco Cervelli to a fractured right hand and Ivan Nova to what was officially diagnosed as right triceps inflammation. I already spent some time on Saturday discussing Cervelli's injury and its implications, and I do believe that will be the greater loss for the Yankees , but there's plenty to consider with respect to Nova's injury as well. Now that we know exactly what the injury is and that he won't be spending any time under a knife to deal with it, this seems like a good time to discuss.
- In terms of removing Nova from the rotation, this triceps injury actually made things a lot easier. Nova was already on a pretty short leash with Joe just a few starts into his 2013 season. The issues and inconsistencies that dominated his 2012 are still very present in his game and have made Nova the unquestioned weak link in the rotation. He's been both taxing on the bullpen and detrimental to the team's chances of winning in his starts, and it was only a matter of time before he got the hook and David Phelps got the spot. Having to go on the DL allowed the Yanks to make this move without hurting any feelings or creating any extra media attention.
- By that same token, this 15-day stint gives Nova time to not only rest his right arm, but review his early starts, work with Larry Rothschild on identifying his areas of weakness, and reset the clock on his season. He might need a rehab start or two before he's ready to return to the rotation, if for no other reason than to build his pitch count back up, and Nova can use those outings to work on improving his command and repeating his delivery, and he can do it without the pressure of having to win games that matter.
- Now, looking at the big picture, the question has to be asked of whether Nova should even be given his spot in the rotation back when he's completely healthy and ready to return. His overall body of work isn't that great, save for the end of 2011, and he hasn't shown many signs of improving his game in the last calendar year. Phelps has proven himself to be a capable starting pitcher, one who's at least able to throw strikes and attack hitters. If he pitches well in his 2-3 week audition, can the Yankees justify moving him back to the bullpen for Nova?
- Even bigger picture, and I say this having little knowledge about the nature of triceps injuries, but if this injury tends to linger and be a constant problem for Nova, or if he suffers a setback and has to miss even more time, does he get booted to the back of the rotation line in the summer when Michael Pineda is ready to come back? That's something that's pretty far off in the distance right now, but Nova was already in danger of losing his rotation spot and his absence is giving Phelps and Vidal Nuno a chance to prove they're better than him and more worthy of a roster spot. A continued absence could grant Pineda the same opportunity, and it's not like Nova has a great body of work to fall back on like CC or Kuroda would if they had to take a trip on the DL.
- As for Phelps, he'll get another shot to showcase his starting stuff and because it's for Nova it will be his best chance yet to actually stick in the rotation. His relief performance on Friday was very good, much better than his previous two, and it allowed him to throw a lot of pitches to boost his count for this week. Pitch count is going to be very important for Phelps simply because he's never shown himself to be efficient in that area. He needed 77 pitches to get through 4 innings on Friday night. The 9 strikeouts were certainly a contributing factor to that, but Phelps was also in a lot of 2- and 3-ball counts. Phelps needs to cut down on that and get a few more early-count contact outs to help lengthen his outings. The Yanks don't need to go from one 4-5-inning starter to another.
If there was one starter that it was "OK" to lose, it was definitely Nova. He hadn't provided quality or quantity in any of this early starts and it was only a matter of a few more bad starts before the talk about him getting axed from the job started getting louder. Injuries are never good, but in this case it saved the team from some added drama and gives Nova one more chance to get his you-know-what together.
(Photo courtesy of Reuters)