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Nova's confidence soars despite 2-HR first

SARASOTA, Fla. -- With the pressure now at a fever pitch for a spot in the rotation -- thanks to Andy Pettitte's impending return -- Ivan Nova did little to establish himself on Sunday night.

The 25-year-old right-hander sounded confident about his status, though, after allowing five runs on seven hits in four innings during the Yankees' 6-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

"I pitched unbelievable. Great. I had all I needed today," he said.

Nova surrendered a three-run homer to Adam Jones in the first inning in addition to a solo shot by Matt Wieters. It was the first spring home run for Jones and Wieters.

Nova said he was affected by the communication process with catcher Gustavo Molina, who served as Nova's battery-mate for the first time.

"I was checking too much and that's not my game," Nova said. "I have to let him know what I want to do. I know it's spring training, but I have to do that right there.

"He checked the first time. It was a slider. I checked the next time. It was a curveball [on the Jones' homer]. That situation, you have to move the batter. You don't call that pitch. You can get out of what happened right there."

Nova said he was mentally affected after the Jones homer and it got to him on the pitch to Wieters, which was a slider.

"I was out of my game right there," he said.

Despite the damage, both statistically and psychologically, Nova was pleased with the way he finished. After giving up a run-scoring single to Endy Chavez in the second, Nova retired six of his last seven batters he faced, including two strikeouts. He forced Jones into a flyout the next time he saw him and he struck out Wieters.

"He looked out of rhythm in the first two innings," manager Joe Girardi said, "but then he looked in rhythm in the next two."

Girardi said the communication process ultimately starts and ends with the pitcher.

"You have to take charge as a pitcher and get on the same page," Girardi said, "even if it means stepping off the mound 17 times."

Bill Hall had a scary moment in the second inning when he was struck in the helmet on a 1-2 fastball from Orioles starter Alfredo Simon. The ball came in fast and Hall could not escape getting hit by the flamethrower, whose fastball has been clocked in the 97 mph range. After a visit from Girardi and Yankees trainer Steve Donohue, Hall chuckled about the close call, nodded he was fine and down to first base.

Girardi said he is not concerned with Raul Ibanez, who is batting .065 (2-for-31) after going 0-for-3 as the designated hitter on Sunday night. "I talked to Raul and I told him, 'You're getting closer. Relax,'" Girardi said.

Mason Williams, who is at or near the top of the list for the Yankees' best prospects, collected his first big-league hit with a single. He also earned the praise of Girardi, who was impressed with the moxie of Williams attempting a steal after entering the game in the sixth inning as a pinch-runner for Mark Teixeira.

"He showed me he didn't have fear and he had a plan," Girardi said. "I like what I saw."