PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) — Ivan Nova is more concerned with showing improvement than where he stands in his bid to be the New York Yankees’ fifth starter.
The right-hander continued to make a case to begin the season in the rotation by pitching four scoreless innings Tuesday during a 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I’m not thinking about if I’m doing enough. I just know that I’m doing my job and pitching well,” Nova said after yielding four hits, walking none and striking out two in his third exhibition start. He’s allowed one run and eight hits over nine innings this spring.
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Nova is trying to make the rotation after faltering down the stretch last season, when he finished 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA last year — down from 16-4 the year before. His main competition is David Phelps, a 26-year-old right-hander who went 4-4 as a rookie last year, and has given up one run in 14 innings over four starts this spring.
Manager Joe Girardi said the best thing Nova did Tuesday was work through a potentially troublesome fourth inning after the Rays put runners at first and third with no outs.
“Those are things you need to be able to do to be a successful pitcher,” Girardi said.
The Yankees scored three runs in the eighth, two of them on Bobby Wilson’s pinch-hit single. Mike Fontenot drove in Tampa Bay’s run with an eighth-inning sacrifice fly.
On a day the Rays selected AL Cy Young Award winner David Price as their opening day starter, right-hander Alex Cobb built on a solid spring showing by working five scoreless innings.
The opening day assignment will be the second of Price’s career. The three-time All-Star also was given the honor in 2011.
“It’s special to me to run out on that field first,” said Price, who went 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA in 31 starts in last year, when he edged Detroit’s Justin Verlander by four points in Cy Young balloting.
“Like I’ve said, I don’t want to just be best on a staff, I want to be the best in baseball,” the 27-year-old left-hander added. “That’s what I strive to be year in and year out. This is a starting point.”
Meanwhile, Yankees captain Derek Jeter said in Tampa that on Wednesday night he will play at shortstop in a game for the first time since breaking his left ankle in the playoffs last October.
“I’ll be out there,” said Jeter, who did not make the trip to Port Charlotte.
Wednesday night’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies will also feature the spring debut for Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte.
Nova gave up singles to Kelly Johnson and Leslie Anderson to begin the fourth. The Yankees starter escaped the jam when Ryan Roberts lined to third, Anderson was caught stealing and Sean Rodriguez struck out.
Girardi said before the game that Nova is “hungry to earn a job” after struggling last season.
“When you run through the bumps, you’ve got to figure it out. I noticed frustration, which I think is pretty normal for players when they’re struggling,” the manager said. “That’s probably the longest period of time that he’s ever went through something like that. In the long run I think it’s going to make him better. But in the short term, it’s hard to go through.”
NOTES: The Rays optioned right-handers Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi and left-hander Alex Torres to Triple-A Durham. … LHP CC Sabathia, the Yankees’ expected opening day starter, had a mound session in preparation for his first spring start on Friday. … Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira, out until at least May due to a sprained right wrist tendon, will rejoin the team this weekend.