Strikeouts not enough for Nova

It was strange outing for Ivan Nova Saturday at Yankee Stadium. He seemed to strike out everybody, yet when his six innings were up the Yankees were trailing, 5-3, in a game they eventually lost to the Reds, 6-5.

Concern the Yankees may have had over any lingering problems from Nova’s previous start at Baltimore where he sustained a bruised right foot and strained right ankle was abated when he got the first seven outs by strikeout. Oh, there were a couple of walks thrown in that led to a run in the first inning and a pair of doubles in the second that resulted in another run, but Nova was on a roll and continued that way until things got out of hand in the fifth.

The Yankees had gotten Nova even at 2-2 on a homer by Russell Martin in the third and a two-out, RBI double by Raul Ibanez in the fourth, but Nova let the first two batters on in the fifth on singles, the second a well-placed bunt by Chris Heisey that was intended as a sacrifice (the Reds are a National League team, remember).

Nova got the odd out without a strikeout as Drew Stubbs grounded into a fielder’s choice that might have been a double play but third baseman Alex Rodriguez had trouble with the transfer and barely got the out at second.

Joey Votto, who had struck out in four of his previous six plate appearances in the series, crushed a 2-1 slider to right for a three-run home run, which made all those Nova strikeouts appear small. Nova struck out the next two hitters to end the fifth and the first batter of the sixth that ran his total to 12. After yielding a hit and hitting a batter, Nova got out of the sixth, thanks to Derek Jeter starting a double play.

“Those three runs in the fifth really hurt,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “I thought [Nova] threw the ball pretty decent, but when they did get a hit they made it count.”

Only five of the 18 batters who made outs against Nova did so without striking out as the righthander established a career high in punchouts. Nevertheless, his overall performance would have to be rated mediocre since his ERA rose to 5.69. Despite all the strikeouts, the Reds put runners on base with seven hits, two walks and a hit batter. Nova has allowed 84 base runners on 65 hits, 16 walks and three hit batters in 50 innings. His 1.62 WHIP is not very good, so Nova is fortunate that his record is 4-2.

Of course, no account of a Yankees game these days is complete without bringing up the team’s problems hitting with runners in scoring position. They ended a 28-inning drought in which they were 0-for-22 in the clutch when Nick Swisher singled home Ibanez from second base in the ninth inning off Reds lefthanders Sean Marshall. It was only the fourth hit in the Yanks’ past 52 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

“Maybe that will help turn things around,” Girardi said. “There has been a lot of talk about our problems in those situations. The guys want to contribute and help the team win.”

Swish’s hit brought the potential tying run to the plate. After going more than three full games without a hit with runners in scoring position, the Yankees got two in the same inning as Jayson Nix singled to left to score Swisher from third base.

That forced Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker to replace Marshall with righthander Jose Arredondo, but my question would be why didn’t Aroldis Chapman pitch beyond the eighth? The Cuban lefthander poured in fastballs ranging from 97 to 99 miles per hour that inning to make short order of Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez. Chapman is being groomed as a starter and is helping out in the bullpen for the time being, but he sure looked untouchable enough to go another inning.

Arredondo got Jeter to hit a ground ball, but the Captain beat the play at first to avoid a double play as Andruw Jones, the potential tying run, moved to third. The Cap Day crowd of 45,302 was hoping for one more hit with a runner in scoring position, but Granderson grounded out to end the game.

Yankees pitchers have totaled 25 strikeouts in the two games of this series, including 21 in 14 innings by the starters. And Sunday’s starter, CC Sabathia, leads the staff in Ks with 59 in 57 1/3 innings.

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