As Ivan Nova walked off the field in the seventh inning of Sunday’s game against the Blue Jays, he glanced up at the scoreboard, taking notice of his pitch count. There, for the first time, he saw triple digits next to his pitch count indicator, having tossed a cool 100.
Seeing the century mark for his pitch count gave Nova some extra satisfaction on a day in which he picked up his second win of the season.
“When [the manager took] me out of the game I know I [threw] 100 pitches for the first time all year and I knew that’s good because you’re starting to get longer in your pitches,” Nova said. “When you throw 100 pitches you have more of a chance to go further in the game.”
For the second straight outing, Nova pitched into the seventh inning, matching a career-high with 6.1 innings of two-run ball in the Yankees' 5-2 win. While he struggled to find the plate, a sharp curveball proved to be the pitch that helped guide Nova through a tough start.
“The first thing I do when I go outside is pitch one inning at a time, hitter by hitter, and when I get to the seventh inning, it feels really good,” Nova said. “I wish I can finish the game but [the] seventh inning I think is a really good start. I feel good about that.”
Nova struggled with his fastball, walking four batters during the game, but started relying more on his curveball as the game wore on and it proved to the pitch he needed to get out of innings.
Nova said he started using his curveball more in his last start, against Chicago on April 26, and with a lack of a fastball Sunday, he had to go to his secondary pitch. Over his final 90 pitches, Nova threw 27 curveballs, according to MLB.com. All of his five strikeouts came via the curveball as well.
Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Nova has been throwing it early in the counts and establishing the pitch, while also attacking hitters with the pitch more.
“He’s been able to throw it for strikes and take guys out of the strike zone with it,” Rothschild said. “He needs to get better at locating his fastball, there’s no question, but he’s got enough movement and power there that he gets people out on some fastballs that aren’t well located just because of the power movement. He’s just getting his feet wet.”
Even with his improved curveball, Nova still had to grind to last 6.1 innings. Nova threw just one perfect inning in the game, in the first, but minimized damage and did an effective job pitching out of the stretch. Nova threw just 60 pitches for strikes, but stranded men on base in each of his final five full innings, for a total of six, and Toronto went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position against Nova.
Toronto only made Nova pay for one mistake in the game, a 2-1 fastball to Adam Lind that Lind clanked off the left-field foul pole to tie the game at 1 in the second.
Manager Joe Girardi pulled Nova after walking Rajai Davis with one out in the seventh, the third straight time the speedster had reached base against Nova.
“It’s got to be a boost of confidence for him and a big step and it just tells you he’s making his pitches when he has to,” Girardi said. “You try not to get in those situations but it’s baseball, you’re going to get in them and you have to find ways to make pitches and he did.”
In his first 10 career starts, Nova had failed to pitch into the seventh inning in any of them, but he finally made it to that inning in his previous start against Chicago. Leading up to this start, Nova stressed the importance of building off that start and trying to get back to the seventh inning. Mission accomplished.
That proved to be enough reason for Nova to be in a joyful mood after the game.
“This is the second one that I have in a row and I feel really good about it,” Nova said. “I’m happy with what I’m doing right now.”