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First Pitch: Nova still smiling

One of the things the Yankees liked about Ivan Nova back in 2010 was the way the rookie had the uncanny ability to shrug off pressure and adversity.

He did it when he was called up in an emergency situation -- Andy Pettitte had just gone on the DL with a groin strain -- and thrust into the pressure-cooker of the AL East race.

And he did it again last year when, despite an 8-4 record, he was shoved aside and sent to the minors to make room for the return of Phil Hughes. Through it all, Nova kept the same unflappable demeanor and when he returned, won his last eight decisions to finish up at 16-4.

That is why it came as no surprise on Saturday when, asked about how he expected the return of Pettitte from his one-year retirement might affect his rotation spot, Nova just smiled.

"I've just got to keep pitching the way I pitch and I don't think it's going to be any problem,'' he said.

Unlike Freddy Garcia, who seemed, and rightfully so, to view the return of Pettitte as a threat, Nova seemed genuinely pleased to have him back on the team.

"In the (2010) postseason, I got the chance to talk to him a couple of times,'' Nova said. "He's a good guy. I'm happy to have him back. I got the chance to play with him one time and I've got the chance to see him again. He's a veteran guy and we all know what he can do.''

But sometimes, it seems as if the Yankees are not sold on what Nova can do. Despite his excellent 2011 season, Joe Girardi has seemingly made a point of not guaranteeing Nova a roster spot, and in truth, his performance so far this spring has been less than awesome: 0-1, a 6.23 ERA and nine hits (two HRs) allowed in 8-2/3 innings pitched.

And now, with an extra arm thrown into the mix, it is not inconceivable that somehow, the guy who won the second-most games as a starter for the Yankees last season could find himself out of the rotation. The prospect does not seem to faze Nova. "I always say that I'm in competition,'' he said. "It doesn't matter if I win 20 games, I'm going to be in competition. I feel that way.''

Nova will make his fourth start of the spring tonight against the Orioles in Sarasota (7:05 p.m., no radio or TV), and suddenly, there's a lot more on the line than there seemed to be three weeks ago.

Question of the day: Was Ivan Nova's 2011 season enough to convince you that he is the goods? Or do you share the Yankees apparent reservations about the big kid with the big smile? Let us know.

On-deck circle: Because of the night game on the road, the clubhouse doesn't open until 12:45 p.m. Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner are the only regulars scheduled to make the trip. Nova will be followed by D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps, Clay Rapada, Cesar Cabral, Juan Cedeno, George Kontos and Mike O'Connor.

Question # 2: Raul Ibanez is hitting .071 (2-for-28) so far this spring. Are you concerned that the Yankees made a mistake in signing him as the LH-hitting DH? Couldn't they have gotten the same thing, or better, out of Jorge Posada? Or do you believe the King of Siam will get his act together? I'm listening.