New York Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova is visited on the mound by infielders and manager Joe Girardi during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday, April 19, 2014, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
The Yankees’ starting rotation suffered a major blow over the weekend, as an MRI revealed a partially torn UCL in the throwing elbow of Ivan Nova. Nova said he felt a little “pop” in his elbow during his start on Saturday, a 16-1 loss to the Rays.
For the time being, Nova will be placed on the DL. It’s possible to rehab from an injury like this and avoid Tommy John surgery, but most pitchers with UCL problems ultimately go for TJ before long. If that’s the case, you can count out Nova for at least 12 months, which is the general time it takes pitchers to rehab as they recover after the surgery.
Nova, 27, is still young, so I’d bet that the Yankees probably encourage that he get the surgery and hope they can get something out of him in 2015 and 2016 in the lead-up to free agency.
Over the past three seasons, Nova has been a perfectly capable No. 4-type starter. He’s won a lot of games, going 40-22 in his 93 career appearances, 86 of which were starts. Of course, that’s largely attributable to the Yankees’ offense beating up on opposing No. 4 and 5 starters. Nova has a career ERA of 4.20, giving up more than one hit per inning, one home run per nine innings and a strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.25) that isn’t terrible, but isn’t all that remarkable, either.
While Nova had plenty of promise, his loss won’t be a crippling blow to the Yankees’ postseason chances, as they have plenty of internal options to use for now. Vidal Nuno is the most likely candidate to take Nova’s spot in the starting rotation. Nuno pitched well in limited big league duty last year and impressed in spring training, enough to earn a role in the bullpen as a long reliever. Once he gets stretched out and back on track in a 5-man rotation, I would expect Nuno to put up numbers similar to Nova’s over the course of a full season. Nothing spectacular, but good enough to get the job done, especially if the Yankees’ offense can rake against his counterparts.
Other options include Adam Warren and David Phelps, but both of those pitchers have seemed to find a role in the Yankees’ bullpen this year. Moving them to the rotation just opens up a hole in the bullpen, so I’d probably leave those guys where they are right now and hope that they continue to pitch well in relief.
In Triple-A, former Yankee Alfredo Aceves could be an option, but he’s never been a regular starter in the big leagues. He could make sense as a piggyback option for Nuno, however. Bruce Billings, Caleb Cotham, Brian Gordon and Chase Whitely round out the Triple-A rotation, but none of those pitchers are on the 40-man roster. Presumably, if Nova lands on the 60-day DL, that would open up a 40-man spot. The hard-throwing Bryan Mitchell, who was briefly on the Yankees’ active roster but did not make any appearances, could be one to watch later in the season. He’s had serious command problems, so I think the Yankees would like him to sort those out in the minors before he’s given a chance to start.
Of course, the Yankees might kick the tires on the starting pitcher trade market in July. With two wild cards in each league, the market will be smaller, as more teams think they’re contenders deeper into the season.
Nova’s injury is certainly a disappointment, as 2014 figured to be some sort of make-or-break year for him. Was he going to factor into the Yankees’ future plans or was he destined to be just a mediocre No. 4 starter for the rest of his career? Well, after allowing 19 earned runs in 20 2/3 innings, the Nova question will likely get put on hold for at least a year.
All that said, the Yankees managed to split a 4-game weekend series in Tampa and will carry an 11-8 record into a series at Fenway Park beginning Tuesday.
After losing two games to the Braves in crushing fashion on Friday and Saturday, the Mets bounced back on Sunday thanks to the bullpen.
Zack Wheeler struck out six and allowed three runs over six innings and the Mets tied the score at 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth. The Mets’ beleaguered bullpen responded with – get this – eight scoreless innings and a Curtis Granderson flyball won it in the bottom of the 14th.
Daisuke Matsuzaka struck out five over three scoreless frames in extras and Jose Valverde pitched the top of the 14th to keep it a 3-3 game.
The win keeps the Mets at .500, 9-9 through 18 games. Atlanta is in front in the NL East at 12-6.
In roster move news, the Mets have sent outfielder Andrew Brown to Triple-A Las Vegas and called up former Phillies and Yankees star Bobby Abreu.
With Juan Lagares on the DL, Abreu will provide another left-handed bat, but it remains to be seen how much time he’ll see in the field. Abreu, 40, might be better suited as a late-inning pinch-hitter than an everyday option in the outfield. Abreu last played in the majors in 2012, splitting time between the Angels and Dodgers. His last good season was 2009, when he .293 with 15 homers and 103 RBI, finishing 12th in the AL MVP voting.
Abreu’s mix of power, speed and durability made him one of the best outfielders in the NL during his heyday with the Phillies, but at age 40, most of that power and all but every bit of his speed has disappeared. It’s a bit mystifying to think why the Mets took a gamble on him in spring training after he failed to catch on with the Phillies, even after a strong spring training. Perhaps he’ll help some of the Mets’ young players learn a thing or two, but I doubt if he’ll contribute much to the club this season.
New York Mets' Curtis Granderson strikes out during the third inning of a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday, April 14, 2014, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
One has to wonder if Abreu winds up stealing any playing time from Curtis Granderson, who’s off to a dreadful start in Queens despite his extra inning heroics on Sunday.
Granderson, through 63 at-bats in 17 games: 8 hits (4 doubles and 1 home run), 5 runs scored, 5 RBI, 2 SB, 8 walks and 20 strikeouts.
So even if you count his plate appearances (72), Granderson is striking out 27.78 percent of the time. That’s putting him on pace for 191 strikeouts this season.
Personally, I don’t think strikeouts are the worst thing in the world. Consider a spot where Granderson comes up with a runner on first and fewer than two out. I’d rather have him strike out trying to hit a home run than have him hit into a double play just trying to make contact.
But the strikeouts certainly are disconcerting from the fan’s perspective. As is the fact that he has just three singles through 17 games.
It’s a rough way for Granderson to get accustomed to the Mets’ fanbase. By all accounts, he’s a positive force in the clubhouse and is active in the players’ association and in charitable endeavors outside baseball. But with each passing whiff, he’s finding himself deeper and deeper in the doghouse.
Abreu, who’s always had a reputation as a patient and selective hitter, might be able to get through to Granderson or at least drive Granderson into playing better by cutting into his playing time.