DETROIT -- It must be a lot of fun to be Ivan Nova, because no matter what is happening in his career, the Yankees' talented but puzzling righty always seems to put the best face on things.
"Personally, I don't think I pitched that bad," he said after allowing four runs on five hits in 4 2/3 innings and taking the loss in Friday's 8-3 Yankees defeat by the Detroit Tigers.
Maybe he was comparing himself with Boone Logan, who gave a up a laser beam of a home run to Prince Fielder that literally knocked a fan off his feet in the right-field bleachers. Or with Shawn Kelley, who surrendered two bombs, one to Fielder and another to Alex Avila to put the game out of reach.
Or maybe it was the knowledge that -- in spite of his ineffectiveness -- his career ERA against Detroit actually dropped from 9.24 to 8.83 that caused Nova to find some consolation in his performance.
But for a guy who won 16 games two years ago and was viewed as a possible low-cost, long-term solution for the Yankees' rotation, Nova is shaping up as a major disappointment.
"I felt like the stuff was there, but I couldn't get it done," he said. "It's just one of those games where you feel good but you're not able to throw strikes."
Unlike CC Sabathia's performance on Opening Day, Nova's problem wasn't so much low velocity -- his fastball registered as high as 95 mph -- but high location and high pitch counts. He needed a whopping 96 pitches to get just 14 outs, and although he kept the powerful Tigers in the ballpark, he was saved in the third inning by a spectacular play by Brennan Boesch, who crashed into the fence in right field after chasing down Fielder's screaming liner, and by a quirk of the ballpark when Victor Martinez's long drive was swallowed up in the alcove in the right-center gap.
But what was most troubling was that Nova, who knows he needs to be aggressive to be effective, spent far too much of the game nibbling at the corners, resulting in far too many deep counts. "When you get in those long counts, those 3-1 and 3-2, they’re going to be able to put some pretty good swings on you," Joe Girardi said.
Girardi chose to play down Nova's lack of aggressiveness in favor of blaming the poor outing on early-season kinks that still need to be worked out. "I always worry about starters the first time through to begin a season," he said. "I think they can get a little excited, they can get a little hyped up. I don’t judge them too quickly on their first starts, because that’s a concern. For him, it’s consistency down in the zone. The hits that he did give up today were up."
Nova did not have a good spring -- 1-0, a 4.19 ERA, 21 hits allowed in 19 1/3 innings, three home runs and a .280 opponent's batting average against major-league teams, and a minor-league appearance at the end of camp in which he was knocked out in the sixth inning by the Single A Dunedin Blue Jays, who touched him for two home runs -- a fact that was even more disturbing since he was ostensibly in a competition with David Phelps for the fifth starter's job.
Both Nova and Phelps wound up making the team when Phil Hughes was forced to start the season on the DL, but you wonder how long the Yankees will be able to trust Nova if his stuff -- and postgame self-assessments -- don't get a little nastier.
"These guys have to have good years for us, there’s no doubt about it," Girardi said. "But you don’t make too much out of one start or a couple outings. Sometimes guys get off to slow starts, sometimes guys get off to fast starts. You really have to look at their body of work over the course of a year."
QUESTION: Do you trust Ivan Nova enough to send him out every five days?