Don't look now, but Ivan Nova might be the Yankees' #2 starter. While CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes have all taken steps backwards this year, Nova has shown a lot of promise of late, making him arguably the best pitcher in the rotation not named Hiroki Kuroda. In his four starts since returning to the rotation, he's gone at least seven innings and posted a 2.03 ERA, holding opposing hitters to a .228/.298/.300 batting line. Nova has teased us with his potential in the past, but his strong performances have been largely overshadowed by some outings that could have been mistaken for batting practice. He allowed two or more homers in seven of his 28 outings in 2012.
There was reason to be optimistic about Nova bouncing back in 2013. Despite the terrible 5.02 ERA, all ERA estimators indicated that he had gotten unlucky. Other than allowing too many home runs, everything else seemed to be in check. He was striking guys out without issuing too many walks, and inducing a fair amount of grounders. He also augmented his repertoire with a sinker to hopefully add some much needed deception to his game.
In terms of "stuff," Nova has more than enough to compete at the Major League level. His fastball that can touch 97 mph and he has good movement on his curveball. The biggest problem for Nova has always been the lack of deception in his delivery. In particular, his four-seam fastball wasn't fooling anyone last year -- hitters crushed it to the tune of .357/.438/.603. It's possible that his sinker resembles his four-seamer just enough to deceive hitters, causing enough confusion to prevent them from squaring up on his hard stuff.
Since his injury, Nova has seemingly decided to focus on his four-seam fastball, sinker, and curveball. He's all but stopped throwing his changeup, and has completely scrapped his slider. In this very limited sample, it's looking like honing in on his three primary pitches might be working for him.
Nova's career has been a bit of a roller coaster thus far, but he still has a lot going for him. Although he's looked brutal at times, he still has excellent stuff, and his peripheral statistics indicate that he hasn't been quite as bad as his ERA would suggest. It's still a small sample size, but it's looking like Nova may be starting to figure things out. His recent performance has almost certainly guaranteed him a rotation spot for the remainder of the season, so he'll have plenty of chances to prove that he can be a reliable starter. It was easy to dream about his future in the Yankees' rotation following his impressive rookie year in 2011, but last season's performance raised concerns about his ability to keep the ball in the park. It's hard to know what to make of Ivan Nova, but for now, he's pitching very well.