TAMPA, Fla. -- Asked to give an assessment of his spring training performance, Ivan Nova answered with two well-chosen words.
"Not good," he said. "Not good."
Nova had just been knocked out in the sixth inning of a game by the Class A Dunedin Blue Jays, having allowed seven runs (six earned) on eight hits and two home runs.
That one didn't count against his spring stats, which were only slightly better -- 1-0, a 4.19 ERA, 21 hits allowed in 19-1/3 innings, three home runs and a .280 opponent's batting average -- and Nova said that by the numbers alone, he's had a pretty rough camp.
"It wasn’t what I was expecting," said Nova, who competed with rookie David Phelps for the fifth starter's job, a competition that became moot with Phil Hughes injured his back and will now start the season on the DL. Phelps had only a slightly better spring than Nova -- 2-3, 3.97, 23 hits in 22-2/3 and a .267 OBA -- but apparently lost the competition because he will start on April 6, the first day the Yankees will need a fifth starter.
Still, Nova wasn't celebrating his victory. "I was expecting to have a great spring, but I feel really good," he said.
Then he changed his tune somewhat. "It wasn’t that bad either. I didn’t think it was that bad. I make a lot of adjustments with my mechanics and my arm, and that’s a good point."
The business about the mechanical adjustment has been a recurring theme this spring with Nova, who credited pitching coach Larry Rothschild with shortening his motion when he was doing well early in the spring, but has taken to mentioning his difficulty in fully embracing it after tough outings.
That drew something of a verbal eye roll from Rothschild, who agreed with Nova's self-assessment of his spring.
"The adjustments were not major," Rothschild said. "It’s something that when he’s right he does throughout, it’s just a matter of trying to make him more consistent with it. There’s some adjustment there, but it's not -- I don’t know if that’s why he’s had a bad spring."
Nova's problem Wednesday with the minor leagues was similar to the one he has displayed at times against major leaguers -- an inability to maintain effectiveness and intensity in the second half of games. Nova was handling the Dunedins easily through the first four innings, but allowed a home run to the leadoff hitter in the fifth, and another run on three hard-hit singles. In the sixth, he melted down completely, surrendering hits to the first -- and only -- five batters he faced, all of whom wound up scoring.
"I don’t think he pitched as well as we’d like him to, but a lot of times that doesn’t make a difference as long as his stamina’s there and he’s built up strength wise, pitch wise and things like that," Rothschild said. "But obviously if you have your druthers you’d want to see him pitch really well and make quality pitches throughout. He’s made a lot of quality pitches and then he’s made some mistakes. It's the mistakes [that] have caught him."