Ivan Nova is recovering nicely from Tommy John surgery, and has recently been quoted as saying he feels "great" and that his rehab "is going good." Nova tore his UCL in April of last year, becoming the first starter to go down in what would be a long year of injuries and setbacks for the Yankees. Now, he's eyeing a mid-season return, although nothing is set in stone by any means.
The Yankees injury concerns with the rotation have been well-documented. We've all heard (and written) about Masahiro Tanaka's elbow, CC Sabathia's knee, and Michael Pineda's shoulder. All this just serves to show that, more likely than not, the Yankees will find themselves in need of some rotational reinforcement next season.
This is where Nova comes in. As Caitlin pointed out yesterday, it's probably not fair to expect much from Nova. However, that doesn't mean that the Yankees won't need him at some point this season. If Nova can return during May or June, he'd basically serve as the ideal mid-season acquisition for a Yankee team lacking in rotational depth (except they won't have to give up anyone to get him!). Either he steps in for an injured starter, or he makes the Yankees rotation even more formidable. But let's be frank - if the Yankees get through next season without a major injury in the starting rotation, it'll be quite a surprise to everyone. Since someone will likely have gone down by June, if Nova can step in at that time and pitch up to his potential, the Yankees might not miss a beat.
Of course, Nova has never been a sure thing. He's been quite inconsistent during his tenure with the Yankees. In what was just his first full season of action, Nova posted a 3.70 ERA and a 4.01 FIP in 2011, relying on inducing a lot of ground balls (52.7% ground ball rate) and limiting home runs (0.71 HR/9). While he took a step back in 2012 (he posted an ERA of 5.02 and a FIP of 4.60 as his ground ball rate dipped to 45.2% and his HR/9 more than doubled, climbing to 1.48 HR/9 - the sixth highest rate in the majors that year), he regained his formidable form again in 2013. He may have started that season off rocky as well, but after a DL stint and a stretch in Triple A, Nova returned and posted a 2.70 ERA and a 3.55 FIP in 116 innings from June 23rd on, by far the best marks of his career.
It's impossible to say which Nova will show up in the middle of 2015 - the plus starter from 2011 and much of 2013, or the struggling young gun from 2012 and early 2014. More than likely, we'll get a taste of both. Still, Nova's been worth 2.1 fWAR per season on average from 2011-2013. He's shown he can be a good major league pitcher. The Yankees will need him to perform at some point next season. When, not if, someone goes down in the rotation, Nova could be a terrific fill-in. And on the off chance that everything goes right, a rotation of Tanaka, Pineda, Nova, Sabathia, and Nathan Eovaldi would probably be the best in the division.
In fact, how Nova performs when he returns might just determine if the Yankees can stay in the playoff hunt. If he can stabilize the rotation and help soften the blow of one injury (if 80% of the rotation goes down again, Nova could be Clayton Kershaw and the Yankees still wouldn't make the playoffs), Nova just might be the reason the Yankees make the playoffs. If anything, he'll give the Yankees the depth that almost any successful team needs to withstand the rigors of a long season. While it's not exactly fair to expect much from Nova this season, the fact remains that when he returns - and how well he pitches upon that return - will likely have a big impact on the Yankees' chances.
Get well soon, Ivan! When injury strikes, the Yankees are going to need you.