Ivan Nova's arm letting him down

NEW YORK -- Ivan Nova says that he wants to pitch in the playoffs. But his right arm keeps getting in the way.

The rookie right-hander didn't do anything to bolster his case for a spot on the playoff roster with a sub-par outing against the Red Sox on Saturday. He allowed four earned runs in 4 2/3 innings, giving Boston starter Jon Lester (7 IP, 2 H, 0 R) plenty of breathing room in the Red Sox's 7-3 win.

It's the third time in seven career starts that Nova has failed to complete five innings.

Afterward, Nova basically characterized the start as a bad day at the office.

"I think my pitches [were] working good. My location was good. ... I think I was good. It was just a bad day," Nova said after being charged with his first career loss.

Where this leaves the 23-year-old Nova in the Yankees' playoff plans is unclear.

Joe Girardi all but admitted this week that Nova wouldn't be considered for a spot in the starting rotation due in part to the fact that he's pitched just 39 2/3 innings in the big leagues. But Girardi did say that he'd think about using Nova as a long reliever.

"Is it something we might possibly look at? Yes,'' the manager told reporters this week.

If you consider the Yankees' options, then Nova might be the best of an uninspiring bunch.

Girardi's options include Nova, Chad Gaudin, Javier Vazquez, Sergio Mitre and Dustin Moseley. Of that quintet, you can make the argument that Nova is the leading candidate heading into the final week of the season, even after his struggles Saturday.

Vazquez severely hindered his case Thursday night against Tampa Bay when he became the first pitcher in Yankees history to hit three straight batters. Gaudin gave up back-to-back homers to the Red Sox in the seventh inning Saturday. Mitre has been solid out of the bullpen, allowing seven runs over 22 innings in his last 11 relief appearances. But Girardi hasn't used him on a regular basis all season.

The battle over the long-term relief role in the postseason may sound insignificant, but just look at what the Yankees' starters have done in the last five games. A.J. Burnett went three innings Wednesday in a rain-shortened start. CC Sabathia lasted just 5 1/3 innings in a loss to the Rays on Thursday and Andy Pettitte couldn't get out of the fourth against Boston on Friday night. And then there was Nova's 4 2/3-inning disaster Saturday.

Of course, all the debate over the Yankees' playoff roster is secondary at the moment because they still need to clinch. With Moseley starting in place of Phil Hughes on Sunday night in the series finale, the Yankees could be staring at a five-game losing streak as they head into the final six games of the regular season.

"We're still in a good spot," Girardi said of the Yankees' 5½-game lead in the wild-card race with seven games to play.

For what it's worth, Nova said he isn't thinking about a playoff roster spot when he takes the mound. He did, however, concede the obvious, saying it would be "awesome" to pitch in October.

"I want a spot," Nova said.

So his head is in the right place. Now only if his right arm would follow.

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.