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Ivan Nova gets pass despite bad outing

Monday night, A.J. Burnett pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowed 10 hits and three runs as the New York Yankees beat the Kansas City Royals, 7-4.

Tuesday night, Ivan Nova pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowed nine hits and seven runs as the Yankees beat the Royals, 9-7.

And if you polled 1,000 Yankees fans today, the vast majority would still want Burnett out of the Yankees' rotation and Nova in.

That is the difference between building up goodwill and equity, as Nova seems to have in his approximately one year in the major leagues, and sowing mistrust and discontent, as Burnett certainly has in his two-plus seasons as a Yankee.

It may not be fair and it may not be accurate, but that is the way it is.

Even Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who was lukewarm in his praise of Burnett on Monday night, was supportive of Nova on Tuesday, despite the worst outing of his career in which he has come away with a win.

"Nova doesn't need a mulligan," Girardi said when asked if he was inclined to throw this one out, Nova's first bad performance since returning to the Yankees on July 30 after a nearly month-long exile to the minors.

"He's pitched really well for us,'' the manager said. "Hey, we've seen it, great pitchers get hit. It's gonna happen.''

I can't recall the last time Girardi, or anyone else connected with the Yankees, referred to Burnett as "a great pitcher,'' but after 37 major league games, he has already applied it to Nova.

And that is another thing the 24-year-old righty has over Burnett, youth and freshness, and a future that seems to be still ahead of him rather than diminishing in size in the rearview mirror.

You get the feeling that Nova's best days are still ahead of him while Burnett's are way in the past.

And even though with Freddy Garcia injured the Yankees temporarily have a five-man starting staff, at some point soon, Girardi and GM Brian Cashman are going to have to make a call on who stays in the rotation and who goes.

Undoubtedly, there will be plenty of public sentiment for the banishment of Burnett, which I am telling you right now is never going to happen. There's too much invested in him -- two more years at $16.5 million a year, for one thing -- and too little that you can do with him outside of sending him out every five days with your fingers and toes crossed.

But there will be no one calling for the banishment of Nova, simply because his upside still seems to be so high.

Nova did not have it Tuesday night, not for one inning or for one minute, when the Royals, who battered him for a career-high eight runs in three innings at Yankee Stadium in May, put up two on three hard hits in the first inning.

The Yankees wiped out that deficit with three runs in the top of the third, but Nova gave it right back again in the bottom of the inning on four more hits, including a long home run by former Yankee Melky Cabrera on a hanging 0-2 slider.

And so Nova's teammates, who have blessed him with an average of seven runs per game this season, came back again, with five more in the fourth, including a majestic three-run homer by Robinson Cano that came at the climax of a marathon 12-pitch at-bat.

At that point, Nova seemed to settle down, retiring the next seven Royals before Jeff Francoeur, who had three hits, started things off with a one-out single in the sixth. A walk to Johnny Giavotella and a two-run double by Salvador Perez later, it was back to being a one-run game and Nova was headed to the showers.

"I got hit today,'' Nova said. "I'm not perfect. I know sometimes I'm going to get hit. Next time I'll try to do better.''

He said it with a smile that says sincerity and a directness that says candor, rather than with a smirk and a wisecrack. Again, it could just be a matter of perception, but perception is everything. Sometimes after a game, Burnett can appear as though he really doesn't care. Nova always seems as though he cares, a lot.

And then there's the little matter of the numbers on their respective resumes. Burnett's contract says $82.5 million over five years and his won-loss record says 9-9. Nova's paycheck says $432,000, the major league minimum, for this year only, and despite his month in Triple A, his record now stands at 12-4, second-best on the team.

Tuesday's victory, sloppy as it was, was his eighth in a row dating back to June 3.

"A win is a win, no matter how you get it,'' Nova said. "I don't think I get paid for my ERA. I get paid for winning games.''

But even in that category, Nova's got A.J. licked. Despite allowing seven earned runs on Tuesday, his ERA is 4.21 to Burnett's 4.61.

Despite their roller-coaster treatment of Nova this season, the Yankees were deeply impressed by his poise last year after being called up to replace the injured Andy Pettitte in July.

And in spite of their early-season misgivings about his perceived tendency to lose focus and effectiveness the second and third times through a lineup, those misgivings no longer seem to exist. The addition of an effective slider to go with his mid-90s fastball has made Nova a difficult at-bat on most nights in this, his first full season in the major leagues, and even on nights like Tuesday he appears to have nowehere to go but up.

"We asked him to do a lot last year n some big games in August and September,'' Girardi said. "And I think he learned a lot from that. He can still improve the consistency of his pitches and he's a lot better when he has his good slider but even when he doesn't, he finds a way to get through. Last year, he didn't but this year he has. We think he has a lot of potential. The sky's the limit for this kid.''

When's the last time someone said that about Burnett? Even on consecutive nights in which one pitched fairly well and the other pitched rather poorly, it is obvious that one of these pitchers is still on the way up while the other one has crashed into the ceiling.

And I needn't tell you which is which.

•••

Cano's fourth-inning at-bat, in which he fouled off seven consecutive pitches, two of which by his own admission would have been ball four, was the highlight of the game, and the home run he hit on the 12th pitch, a slider that hung and then soared 421 feet over the right-field fence, was by far the most impressive blow struck in a game that featured 21 hits. Since the All-Star break, Cano has raised his batting average 10 points, to .306, hit five home runs and knocked in 24 runs. He has filled in admirably for Alex Rodriguez as the cleanup hitter against lefthanded starters, a job he will be giving back presently as A-Rod nears his return from knee surgery. Still, he has turned around a season that seemed headed for disappointment after his breakout 2010 when he it .319 with 29 HRs and 109 RBI. "I'm hitting more balls the other way, something I wasn't doing in the first half,'' Cano said. "Now in the second half, I got three, four home runs the other way, and that's what you want. You could see the result in the numbers.'' Said Girardi: "We've put a lot on Robby's shoulders every day. He understands the expectations and he handles them very well. It doesn't seem to bother him. It just seems like Robby was born to hit.'' .... Derek Jeter, who had three RBI on Monday, had two more Tuesday, including an RBI double. His average is up to a season-high .283. Jeter is batting .483 over his last five games (11-for-23) ... The Yankees bullpen -- Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera -- retired all 11 batters they faced ... The win coupled with a doubleheader split between the Red Sox and Rays put the Yankees back atop the AL East by a half-game ... Bartolo Colon (8-6, 3.31) gets the start in the series finale against LHP Bruce Chen (7-5, 4.15), first pitch at 8:10 p.m.