If I had a nickel for every time Ivan Nova was called “inconsistent,” I could pay the New York Yankees’ $204 million payroll.
The 27 year old has truly had a Jekyll and Hyde career. In any given game, he’s as likely to throw eight scoreless innings as he is to give up eight runs without recording an out. The latter was the case in his last start against the Baltimore Orioles.
The O’s put up seven runs on 10 hits, knocking Nova out of the game in just 3 2-3 innings en route to a 14-5 victory. According to Andrew Marchand of ESPN, after the game Joe Girardi discussed why Nova had so much trouble: “Two things – the sinker didn’t have a lot of sink to it and was up in the zone […] And his curveball wasn’t very sharp. That’s not a very good combination for him, seeing those are his bread-and-butter pitches. He wasn’t sharp today.”
If Nova wants to make the jump from good to elite, like the Yankees hope he can do this year, he must find a way to get batters out when he doesn’t have all of his pitches working. That’s what elite pitchers do.
Obviously, the Yankees aren’t expecting Nova to become as good as Clayton Kershaw, and it’s understandable that Major League hurlers do not always have their best stuff. Nevertheless, Nova needs to improve in the area that Kershaw has mastered. Even when he’s having an off night, he needs to be sharp enough to keep the Yankees in the game.
When Nova’s on, he’s virtually unhittable, but he cannot continue to get rocked every time his curveball isn’t breaking as much as he’d like it to. He cannot continue to alternate stellar outings with awful ones.
The game Buster Olney was referring to in that tweet was Game 1 in the divisional round of last year’s playoffs. If Nova can figure out how to navigate lineups without his A-game, he could find himself pitching on a similar stage come October.