It appears that if all goes well with Ivan Nova's rehab start on Saturday for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre that he will return to the big-league rotation sometime next week. What happens with Adam Warren has been the big story with Nova's impending return, but I'm going to be very curious just what pitcher the Yankees are getting with Nova.
Nova's career with the Yankees has been pretty fascinating to watch with many different twists and turns. He came up to the Yankees in 2011 with outstanding results going 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA. However, it seemed like a little fools gold with Nova only striking out 5.33 batters per nine inning compared to walking 3.10 and his XFIP was 4.16.
Nova became much more of a strikeout pitcher in 2012 and raised his K/9 rate 8.08, but didn't get the same results on the mound even though his xFIP was better at 3.92. He had a terrible 5.02 ERA over 170 1/3 innings. The main issue was home runs, as Nova gave up an astounding 28 of them and 14 were off his fastball. It seemed like as he was going for more whiffs he got away from the sinker that induced so many grounders for hi4 in 2011 and could not locate his fastball well in the zone. His ground ball rate dropped to 45.2 percent in 2012 after it was 52.7 percent in 2011.
The 2013 season was when Nova really put it all together with the results matching the peripherals. Nova almost retained his 2012 strikeout rate (7.49 K/9) while keeping the ball on the ground again (53.5 percent GB rate) and limiting homers (nine home runs allowed). He pitched to a 3.10 ERA and a 3.68 xFIP over about 139 1/3 innings. The big change Nova made in 2013 was completely scrapping his slider. He only threw it 1.4 percent of the time after throwing it on 14 percent of pitches in 2012. Thus, Nova relied on his curve more and batters only hit .152 against it in 2013.
It's hard to know what to make of Nova's four starts last year. They were horrific, but you don't know whether he was pitching healthy or not. As you can see, Nova has had a lot of inconsistencies throughout his career. With his slider gone developing a third pitch would be very important for Nova, who has used his changeup sparingly throughout his career. It appears that he is working on it, as he threw 15 changeups in 72 pitches in his last rehab start.
“I feel like I need to get that pitch back,” Nova said to LoHud's Chad Jennings. “I once had it. I was throwing my changeup (in the past), and if I feel the good grip and I feel it’s a good at-bats (to use it) and I have that confidence, why not start throwing it now? It’s not something crazy. I feel like I’m going to see some spots where I can throw it, (but) not because I want to pitch different or anything like that.”
Nova also mentioned to Jennings how he had to go to different variations of his sinker and curveball because he didn't believe in his changeup enough.
“When I have those (good) stretches, my fastball was working fine, working down in the zone,” he said. “Good velocity. Sinker, good movement. Curveball was there. Sometimes in those moments, (though), I have to go two sinkers or two curveballs because I don’t have the confidence to throw the changeup even in the good moments. You can put it two different ways: What would happen if I have that chanegeup every game? Do you think it would be better moments, or you think it would be a bad moment?”
Nova has the talent to be a solid mid-rotation pitcher or maybe even slightly better. Of course, at times he has performed like he doesn't even belong in a MLB rotation. Trying to find consistency will be the key for Nova as he returns from Tommy John surgery.