Ivan Nova to start for Javy Vazquez
By Wallace Matthews
TORONTO -- It appears that Ivan Nova's guest appearance in the New York Yankees rotation on Monday was actually an audition for a regular spot on the pitching staff. He passed.
Manager Joe Girardi announced Nova will replace the struggling Javier Vazquez for Sunday's start against the White Sox in Chicago, and perhaps longer than that.
"We liked what we saw out there," Girardi said before Tuesday night's Yankees-Blue Jays game. "I saw toughness. I saw resiliency. I liked his presence out there. And we think his stuff is even better than he showed."
It was a 180-degree turn from Monday night, when Girardi dismissed with a wave of his hand the question of whether the 24-year-old had earned another start. "It's way too early to think about that," he said.
Barely 12 hours later, Girardi had not only thought about it, but done it.
Called up from Triple-A Scranton on Sunday, Nova threw 5 1/3 innings of six hit, two-run ball in the Yankees' 3-2 loss Monday night, including one of Jose Bautista's two home runs. But Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland were especially impressed by the first inning, in which Nova was faced with a bases-loaded, none-out jam and the dangerous Vernon Wells at bat. Nova got Wells to pop out to short left on a 2-0 pitch, and Brett Gardner turned it into a key double play when Fred Lewis foolishly tried to score from third.
"He could have caved right there but he didn't," Girardi said of Nova. "He continued to make pitches."
The Yankees were also impressed by Nova's standing up to Bautista in the sixth inning, when the Jays slugger took a few steps toward the mound after a high, tight fastball flew past Bautista to the backstop, triggering an incident that cleared the benches but did not erupt into a brawl.
"That kid showed me something, standing up to the top home-run hitter in the game," one Yankee said. "He's the kind of kid who can help us a lot."
Clearly, the Yankees no longer felt that way about Vazquez, the 34-year-old right-hander who has struggled on and off all season and lately has suffered an alarming drop in velocity that no one seems able to explain.
Vazquez (9-9, 5.05 ERA) hasn't made it through the fifth inning in any of his last three starts, and was yanked just three innings into his last outing, against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday, after surrendering three home runs -- two to Ichiro Suzuki and one to Russell Branyan. Vazquez was told before Tuesday night's game that he would not be starting Sunday, although Girardi indicated his banishment to the bullpen could be permanent.
"I can't tell you right now," Girardi said when asked if Vazquez would remain in the 'pen. "I want to see where we are after Sunday, and we'll continue to evaluate how everyone's doing and how everyone's feeling."
Vazquez said he was disappointed but not surprised by the move.
"I haven't been doing my job, so I understand it," he said. "I'm feeling good but I'm just not throwing the ball well. That's why I'm a little frustrated."
With the Yankees in a dogfight for control of the AL East -- they are tied with the Tampa Bay Rays heading into Tuesday night -- their rotation now consists of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and, with Andy Pettitte on the DL, three pitchers who were not full-time major league starters last year: Phil Hughes, Dustin Moseley and Nova.
Asked this afternoon if he could foresee Nova possibly starting a game for the Yankees in the postseason, Girardi said, "I think that's getting too far head."
Which is precisely what he had said Monday night about the possibility of Nova getting another start this weekend.
Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.