Nova improves Jackie Robinson Award credentials

Ivan Nova just might be running away with the American League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award if he had not had to spend most of the month of July in the minor leagues because of the Yankees’ pitching logjam. Nova ran his winless streak to 10 starts with Sunday’s 3-0 victory over the Twins that completed a 5-2 trip for the Yanks, who are proving to be true road warriors.

The righthander’s 13 victories in 17 decisions are the most for rookie pitchers, and seven shutout innings brought his ERA below 4.00 at 3.97. This was a scoreless game for five innings. Nova was most impressive in working out of tight situations.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Twins had runners on second and third with none out as the result of a single by Jim Thome and a double by Danny Valencia on a ball that fell between center fielder Curtis Granderson and right fielder Nick Swisher on a mix-up of coverage. Nova met the challenge by striking out Rene Tusoni and Matt Tolbert and getting Drew Butera on a grounder to first base. Minnesota had runners on first and second with two out in the sixth, but Nova stranded them with a strikeout of Thome on a nasty slider.

Nova’s victory total is the most for a Yankees rookie pitcher since reliever Ron Davis was 14-2 in 1979 and most for a Yankees rookie starter since Doc Medich was 14-9 in 1973. Neither was a Rookie of the Year winner, but Nova is a firm candidate this year. His competition comes from fellow starting pitchers Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays and Michael Pineda of the Mariners, reliever Jordan Walden and first baseman Mark Trumbo, both of the Angels. Nova has not lost since June 3 at Anaheim. In 10 starts since, he is 9-0 with a 3.59 ERA.

On a day when the Yankees were hitless in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position, they used their legs to get Nova some runs. After leading off the sixth inning with a double, Robinson Cano sped to third after a flyout to left by Swisher and was able to score on Russell Martin’s fly ball to center.

The next inning, Granderson ran out every base of his 35th home run, the third inside-the-parker of his career and the first in the two-year-old Target Field. Granderson showed what can happen when a player runs hard. He could have cruised into third with a triple but he never let up so that when the Twins botched the relay he saw third base coach Rob Thompson’s green light and beat the play to the plate.

Mark Teixeira followed with a more conventional home run on a liner into the left field stands. His 34th kept Tex one behind the team leader, Granderson, who tied the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista for the league lead.

The Yankees are doing an excellent job of navigating their way through an August schedule that has them on the road nearly three-quarters of the time. They are 10-4 away from Yankee Stadium this month and 37-24 for the year.

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