If there’s good news about Ivan Nova’s pitching injury, it’s that the Yankees now know why he pitched so badly on Saturday.
But the bad news is significant. Nova has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, which very likely means his 2014 season is over and the Yankees have a major hole in their starting rotation.
Nova pitched four innings of an eventual 16-1 loss to the Rays, allowing eight runs on eight hits. Four of those hits were home runs. The right-hander was pulled from the game following his 81st pitch. Nova shook his arm after making the throw, drawing the attention of Yankees bench coach Tony Pena. Pena alerted manager Joe Girardi, who went to the mound with a team trainer to ask Nova if he was all right. When Nova said he felt pain in his elbow, Girardi took him out.
Yankees team physician Christopher Ahmad will examine Nova in New York on Monday, but an MRI taken after Nova left Saturday’s game revealed the tear. Nova and the Yankees will then decide whether or not to try and rehabilitate the injury or undergo season-ending reconstructive surgery. Even if Nova opts for rehab, it appears likely that he’ll eventually need Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow. Mets pitcher Matt Harvey tried to avoid surgery, but eventually conceded after two months of rehab.
When Nova initially heard his UCL was partially torn, he believed it was good news.
“What does that mean? It’s not all the way?” Nova said to reporters, including the Star-Ledger‘s Jorge Castillo. “So that’s not too bad, I guess. I know it’s not good, but if it’s not all the way, it’s not too bad. That’s what I think.”
However, once Nova received further explanation in Spanish, the seriousness of the injury became clear to him.
Though Nova had pitched badly in two of his four starts, this is obviously a significant blow to the Yankees’ rotation. Nova was lined up as the team’s No. 3 starter going into the season behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda. Though that hierarchy changed with the early success of Masahiro Tanaka and revival of Michael Pineda, Nova still filled an important role — one that now needs to be replaced.
Left-hander Vidal Nuno made a spot start for the Yankees on Sunday, and is likely the leading contender to take Nova’s spot in the rotation. The 26-year-old pitched well, throwing five scoreless innings while allowing three hits, striking out six batters and walking two. That was somewhat surprising, considering that Nuno hadn’t pitched since April 8, when he gave up seven runs and eight hits in 3.1 innings against the Orioles. Additionally, the Rays lineup had crushed Yankees pitching in the previous two games, scoring 27 runs with 32 hits.
Other in-house candidates for the Yankees rotation include Adam Warren and David Phelps. However, with closer David Robertson on the disabled list, Warren has taken over as the eighth-inning setup man and pitched relatively well in that role (besides giving up three runs in Friday’s 11-5 loss). Phelps hasn’t been nearly as effective, allowing five runs, seven hits and four walks in 9.2 innings (admittedly a small sample size) this season.
For at least the immediate future, at least one of those three will have to fill in adequately. The Yankees don’t have much help in the minors, and at this point in the season, no one’s trading starting pitching — if there’s even any to spare.