Ivan Nova made his first career start yesterday, and he did a good job. It's easy to overlook Nova's effort given the two dramatic home runs by Jose Bautista, Bautista's antics, Brandon Morrow's 12 strikeouts, Jerry Meals' inconsistent strike zone, two Toronto ejections, and a near brawl in the sixth inning. Yes, it was a fun and eventful game. But Nova's pitching, other than throwing up and in to Bautista after his first home run, wasn't really that eventful at all. After he got out of a tough first inning in which he loaded the bases with nobody out (helped by a double play turned by Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli), he just went about his business, getting groundballs and keeping the Jays from scoring. Except, of course, for the two-run homer by Bautista in the 3rd inning. His final line for the evening was 5 1/3 innings, 6 hits, 2 runs (both earned), 1 walk, and 3 strikeouts. That's a game score of 50, which is exactly average.
Nova went to work with four pitches: a fastball, a hard curveball, a hard changeup, and a slider that the YES Network's Jack Curry said that he is still developing. The velocity exceeded expectations, lighting up the gun at 98 mph (97.5) in the first inning and averaging 94-95. The curve was typically in the low 80s, the slider a bit more than that, and the change a bit more than the slider. Nova appeared to have best command of the fastball, on which he got two swings and misses and generated 9 ground balls out of 13 balls in play. I think it's a four-seamer, maybe a combination of a four-seamer and a two-seamer, but whatever it is, it gets some good dropping action relative to the average fastball, which leads to lots of grounders. A bit less than a third of the 73 pitches Nova threw were fastballs; he had a tougher time commanding the 23 offspeed pitches. Of those pitches, 20 were out of the strikezone, and only four of those pitches were chased (all of them changeups). In addition, it was a hanging slider that Bautista was able to hit out of the park in the third inning.
Now, the Yankees have to figure out whether or not Nova was good enough for another start. I'm interested to see what they come up with.
For those who are interested, below I've included the average pitch movement for Nova's start. It's from the catcher's perspective, so pitches breaking armside (from a righty) will have negative horizontal movement. Also, it's relative to a theoretical pitch without spin. I mentioned the extra "drop" on Nova's fastball earlier; the average big league fastball "rises" (compared to the spinless pitch) 9-10 inches, while Nova's only "rises" about 7.5. Of course, this becomes more significant when compared to other parks, but the Toronto system seems like it's calibrated well, and the fastball movement would explain the groundballs. Some video of his pitches is here.