NEW YORK -- Ivan Nova says he did not watch baseball the past 14 months. Like many pitchers before him, Nova was going through the tedious and solitary confinement of rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery. Alone in Tampa, Florida, Nova worked to make his elbow right.
He trained to get back to the game, but he could not turn on a game on TV.
"It was driving me crazy," Nova said.
On Wednesday afternoon against the Philadelphia Phillies, Nova will take the mound for the first time since April 19, 2014, a fateful day versus the Tampa Bay Rays. He left that game with elbow pain after allowing eight runs -- and four home runs -- in four innings. With his ulnar collateral ligament now healed, Nova will make his return.
"This is like another dream," the 28-year-old Nova said, comparing Wednesday's start to his major league debut in 2010. "I can't describe what is going through my mind."
Nova is suddenly important to this rotation. The Yankees are struggling as Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia just started three straight games that ended in the opponents scoring 11-plus runs for the first time in 15 years.
Nathan Eovaldi has proven to be as advertised -- talented, but unreliable. Adam Warren, whom the Yankees would prefer to have in the bullpen, has pitched the best lately, making it difficult to remove him.
The unrest has made Nova's return to the rotation even more significant, which is a lot for a pitcher coming off surgery to contend with.
On the other side Wednesday, Cole Hamels is the sort of ace the Yankees could use but may not have the desire to acquire. The Yankees are trying to avoid running into the current Sabathia dilemma of having to pay big money at the end of contracts for players who are no longer top notch.
The Yankees will be hesitant to deal prospects Aaron Judge and Luis Severino in a trade because they will not want to give up prospects and have to pay big money when they can just go shopping in free agency without relinquishing their youngsters.
Nova, now the last line of defense in what could be an embarrassing sweep of the Yanks by the lowly Phillies, is 40-22 with a 4.20 ERA in five seasons in the bigs. He spent the past year itching to be back on the mound, around his teammates in the clubhouse, and winning games.
"This is the only thing I can do," Nova said. "This is the only thing I know, to play baseball. I love to do [it]. I'm a big fan of baseball. Even when people say, 'It is hard. The traveling. Being away from the family.' Personally, I'll take traveling [over being] at home sitting around. Good moment, a bad moment -- you want to be part of that.
"My family was, 'Relax. Take it easy. A lot of people go through this. You are not the only one. Blah, blah, blah, blah.' I said, 'You guys are telling me that because you don't feel what I feel.'"
When Nova throws his first pitch a little after 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday, he said he will feel better than ever before, even though his fastball may not yet be right.
"I feel much stronger than what I was, even though my velocity might not be there yet," Nova said. "It is a process."
Nova is at the end of the rehab part of the process, which makes him feel like a lucky guy.
"I've been blessed," Nova said.