If the regular season started tomorrow, Ivan Nova apparently would be ready to go. The right-hander was excellent today against the Braves, and the Yankees won the exhibition, 7-0. This wasn't just a lineup of nobodies by the Braves, either. Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, the Upton brothers, Chris Johnson, Andrelton Simmons, and Dan Uggla all started for Atlanta since the Yankees were playing on the road. B.J. Upton and Uggla looked awful last year, but the rest of the lineup was great.
Nonetheless, Nova was almost perfect in 6 1/3 innings, allowing just two baserunners in a shutout performance. Nova didn't walk anybody, and the Braves' only two hits came on a soft fly by Simmons into right field during the third and a pinch-hit double on a fly ball to right field by lord of darkness Ryan Doumit in the sixth. Both runners were stranded in the respective innings. There was no video for this game, but the Braves announcers on Gameday Audio were impressed by Nova's curve, as it made both Uptons, Johnson, and Uggla look silly on strikeouts. Brett Gardner reportedly made a nice catch on a long fly ball to center by B.J. Upton to rob him of extra bases, though maybe the Braves announcers just made that up. (They were mispronouncing Yankees all afternoon long, so who even knows?) Granted, it's not very difficult to make B.J. Upton and Uggla look bad these days, but it would be tough to deny that Nova was excellent. He departed with one out in the seventh inning after a weak grounder by Freeman. Danny Burawa relieved Nova and after giving up a double to the superior Upton, he stranded him on a pair of grounders.
On offense, the Yankees brought a mostly-complete lineup to the Braves' spring training complex, and they handled Braves rotation candidate David Hale pretty well. They got off to a fast start when Gardner led off the game with a walk, stole second, and came home on a Carlos Beltran single. That's the kind of rally that would be excellent to see at the start of a regular season game. The Yankees went in order for the next nine batters during the next couple innings, but Brian Roberts kicked off a two-out rally in the third inning on a single through the right side. Kelly Johnson followed with a walk, and while the Braves announcers discussed Adonis Garcia's "bulge" and other superficial looks over a couple Rob Roys, Garcia doubled to left to bring home two more runs and make it 3-0.
The score stayed that way until the seventh, when Luis Vazquez was in the game for the Braves. The B-team sparked a rally this time, as Jose Gil worked a walk and Antoan Richardson pinch-ran, stealing a base after narrowly avoiding a pick-off attempt. Gardner walked as well and Derek Jeter bounced into a fielder's choice to move Richardson to third. Jeter departed for a pinch-runner and received a nice hand from the fans as he left the field. Unless the Yankees and Braves meet in the World Series, this is the last time Atlanta fans will see the man whose teams beat theirs in the World Series twice during the '90s.
Beltran came through again with another RBI single to bring home the Yankees' fourth run, and the Braves' defense gifted the Yankees a fifth run when a wild throw by Simmons on a double play attempt scored pinch-runner Yangervis Solarte. That run can partially be blamed on Vazquez being late to cover the bag at first, but so it goes. The Yankees tacked on a couple more runs in the ninth when the Braves brought in someone awful named Juan Jaime. They didn't get a single hit in the inning but walked four times to make it 6-0. Ryne Harper relieved Jaime and after striking out Eduardo Nunez, he walked Zelous Wheeler to run the score up to 7-0.
Shane Greene, Cesar Cabral, and Dellin Betances all seemed fine in closing out the game's last two innings, each recording two outs to finish off the shutout. Televised baseball returns tomorrow as the Yankees travel to the Red Sox spring training complex in Ft. Myers for a rare spring night game at 7pm. The game will be available on YES, ESPN, and MLB.tv.