NEW YORK -- On the New York Yankees' previous homestand, starter Ivan Nova criticized himself for failing to hit his spots and not delivering pitches low enough in the zone for opponents to regularly send harmless grounders toward his teammates around the infield.
On Wednesday night, Nova (W, 7-2) had no reason to be down on himself, as he outdueled Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Alex Cobb (L, 2-2) (7.0 IP, 5H, 4R) in a 4-1 win, limiting New York's division rivals to one run on four hits over eight innings (plus two batters).
Now, it goes without saying that the Rays' lineup is weaker sans third baseman Evan Longoria (partially torn hamstring), and that Nova's inflated 5.09 ERA is nothing to boast about. But the former 16-game winner is, nonetheless, satisfied with the command he displayed.
"I got a couple of walks in Anaheim; it wasn't that good. Today was really good, so ... I think I have, the last couple of times, really good location," a conspicuously encouraged Nova, who had five strikeouts against one walk, told Yahoo! Contributor Network. "In Oakland, I had good command, too; I gave up a couple of homers. Thank God I didn't give up any today.
" ... But I feel really good, I guess. It was really good."
"Awesome, absolutely awesome," Nick Swisher, who doubled home a run in the eighth, said of Nova's outing vs. Tampa Bay. "I think we've all come to expect that type of start. The numbers speak for themselves. Feels like when he's on the mound ... what, 7-2 now? We hit well when he's on the mound.
"He really pitched aggressively today," the right fielder added. "It was really nice to see."
Nova had a shutout going until he allowed an RBI triple to Rays center fielder B.J. Upton in the ninth. Closer Rafael Soriano, brought in with no one out and Upton on third, retired the three hitters he faced to earn his eighth save on the season.
Nova ends up with an excellent pitching line, no doubt, but the stat that illustrates how much he's struggled to consistently keep his pitches low--which increases the likelihood of ground balls--is the number of home runs already charged to him this year: 13. That amount matches what he yielded over 28 appearances (27 starts) in 2011.
In stark contrast to that unenviable pattern, Nova, on Wednesday, had Rays hitters beating the ball into dirt and grass, recording 13 outs (including one double play) on grounders.
"I did like I used to do," Nova said. "I mean, keep the ball down and get my sinker going, get my ground balls, locate my pitches [and] be aggressive with it."
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