BOSTON -- The Yankees still don't know exactly what they're going to do with Ivan Nova, but they know what they are not going to do with him: Send him back to the minors.
Not this weekend, anyway.
Nova, who pitched brilliantly in Thursday night's 7-2 victory over the White Sox, is still with the Yankees on Friday as they open an important three-game series at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox, with whom New York is in a deadlock atop the AL East.
"Right now, we're going to stay with all our pitching," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "This has been a ballpark and a club where you can go through some pitching. They can put some long at-bats on you. So we're comfortable to stay with all our pitching now."
Essentially, Nova is being kept as insurance in case the Yankees run short of pitching and need to use Phil Hughes -- who's penciled in to start Tuesday against the Angels at Yankee Stadium -- out of the bullpen in either Saturday afternoon's game or Sunday night's series finale.
"We'll put Hughesie in the bullpen for a day or two," Girardi said. "Not tonight, but if something gets crazy and we need him Saturday or Sunday, we're just trying to make sure we're covered on our pitching aspect for the next three days."
The Yankees might just as easily have optioned Nova and called up a position player to lengthen their bench for what are often long, grueling games with the Red Sox. Instead, Girardi and GM Brian Cashman opted for more arms.
"When you put the Red Sox and the Yankees together with all the long at-bats guys put on, sometimes starters are at 100 pitches after five innings," Girardi said. "Our focus now is these three days, to make sure we get through these three days and that we have enough pitching."
Nova, sent to Triple-A Scranton to make room for Hughes' return from the disabled list, was recalled on July 30 and has pitched well in both his starts since. But Girardi, catcher Russell Martin and Nova all agreed that Thursday night was the best he had ever pitched in the major leagues.
The 24-year-old right-hander held the White Sox to six hits, all singles and two of them infield hits, and one run in 7 2/3 innings. He walked none and struck out a career-high 10 in winning his 10th game of the season. Aside from CC Sabathia, with 16 wins, only one other Yankees starter, Freddy Garcia, has won as many games.
"Nova has thrown the ball very well," Girardi said. "There's really no other way to put it."
Nova attributed his dominance to increased use of his slider, a pitch he tried out in spring training but shelved once the regular season began. When he was sent down July 3, he said he began throwing it again.
"I wasn't throwing it too much here because I didn't really have the confidence to throw it," he said. "Once I got sent down, I think it was the right moment to start working on it. Now I have more confidence in that pitch and situations you have to use it, like (Thursday). They couldn't hit my slider."
Girardi said the decision to put Hughes in the bullpen rather than Nova was because Hughes was effective in 44 relief appearances in the second half of 2009, while Nova has never pitched in relief.
"None of us really know how he would do out of the 'pen," Girardi said of Nova. "That's somewhat of a change to make in the season. We saw Hughes make it very effectively two years ago. He was dominant there for us. I'm not sure if we're ready to do that with Nova."
Hughes said he was OK with whatever arrangement Girardi came up with, although he wasn't sure what his role would be. "The back end of our bullpen is pretty solidified," he said. "It would probably, most likely, be in an emergency situation. I'm really not sure."
Aside from the possibility of Nova replacing Hughes as Tuesday's starter, and the puzzling A.J. Burnett going on Wednesday, Girardi was vague about how he will set up the rest of his rotation. He will try to keep Sabathia, his ace, on a regular schedule, and he mentioned giving his older starters, Garcia and Bartolo Colon, an extra day here and there. But clearly, everything is liable to change.
"We have six guys for five spots," Girardi said, "And we'll have to work that out."
Nova was happy to leave the logistics of the situation to the manager.
"I'm still here," he said, smiling. "And that's good."
Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com.