Nova doesn't help rotation case in latest start

Struggles vs. O's may have given Sabathia the lead for No. 5 spot

Nova doesn't help rotation case in latest start

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The battle for the Yankees' final rotation spot has been "the biggest story in camp right now," as manager Joe Girardi put it. By surrendering three home runs to the Orioles during the Yanks' 11-10 loss on Friday, Ivan Nova may have slapped a conclusion on it.

Nova was knocked around for six runs (five earned) in 4 2/3 innings, serving up long balls to Mark Trumbo, Caleb Joseph and J.J. Hardy. While the Yankees have not made any official announcements, Nova recognizes that the odds could have shifted in CC Sabathia's favor.

"I've put myself in a really bad position right now, if we look at the numbers," Nova said. "I would say, they are going to make the decision, but sometimes you've got to help. I didn't help myself today."

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Nova's clunker followed an encouraging outing from Sabathia on Thursday, in which the left-hander held the Rays to two runs and six hits over five innings at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Nova allowed just two runs through his first nine spring innings, but he has given up 10 (nine earned) in his last two starts.

"We're still evaluating," Girardi said. "We've talked about, we're going to evaluate all the way through. That's the only fair way to do it. I think they each have another start here coming up and we'll continue to evaluate."

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Neither pitcher has looked unhittable: Sabathia's spring ERA stands at 5.84 through 12 1/3 innings, while Nova's ERA has jumped to 5.50 through 18 frames. Bryan Mitchell (0.84 ERA in 10 2/3 innings) has pitched better than both; Mitchell is starting on Saturday against the Blue Jays, but he is still thought to be on the outside looking in.

The Yankees have said that salary will not be their determining factor, instead focusing on who gives them the best chance to win every fifth day. Yet if Sabathia were to lose the job to Nova, they would be the first team to carry a $25 million long reliever.

"CC has meant too much to this club, and Nova's been here. It's something that has to be well thought out, and we have to make a decision," Girardi said. "The decision has to be made, but it's not a permanent decision. I have the utmost respect for what CC has done in his career, what he's done for us. So this is a tough decision."

Nova said the difference in his last two starts has been the command of his pitches. While he rated his curveball and cutter as improving, Nova found himself in trouble often against both the Twins and Orioles because he couldn't spot his fastball. Those were missteps that he probably couldn't afford this late in the battle.

"If you pitch good, then they're maybe going to have a tough decision. If you pitch bad, it's going to be easy for them," Nova said.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.