They wanted to see the 24-year-old Nova post double digits in victories this season, a goal that the hurler carried with him closely all season. He blew past that, going 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA to earn consideration for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, which ultimately went to Tampa Bay's Jeremy Hellickson. Nova placed fourth, garnering one first-place vote and finishing behind Hellickson, the Angels' Mark Trumbo and the Royals' Eric Hosmer.
Nova played a key part in getting the Yankees back to the postseason once again, stepping up as CC Sabathia's right-hand man in the rotation -- a needed piece, especially when fellow hurler Phil Hughes went down early to injury.
"This year I had the chance to start in the rotation, so what you've got to do is put all your focus, your energy and try to win your spot -- try to win," Nova said during the playoffs. "And I think that's why I won the spot; I was so confident the whole Spring Training. If you want to play in the big leagues, you have to be confident in yourself. You have to fight [for] it, and I think that's what I did."
2011 AL ROOKIE OF YEAR VOTING
The 16 wins were the most by a Yankees rookie since Stan Bahnsen went 17-12 in 1968, and the Yankees were 19-8 in Nova's starts. Before his first postseason start, Nova said his family back home was elated with the results.
"They're really happy," Nova said. "They knew I can do more. They wanted 10 [wins]. I told them, 'I don't want 10. I don't think 10 is enough.'"
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that Nova had been able to progress through the club's farm system without being hurried to the big leagues, which helped his development. When 2011 began, he was under no innings restrictions.
"He wasn't rushed, and he got a chance to throw a lot of innings," Girardi said. "He kind of flew under the radar, and it probably helped him, because when you come up a lot of times in a Yankees rotation, you're not asked to be the second starter or third starter. You're asked to be a fourth or a fifth, just because there's that experience. And that can help as well."
Nova was able to compile his numbers despite a July demotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, through no fault of his own doing. Hughes' return from the disabled list had created a rotation numbers crunch, but when Nova returned to pitch in a July 30 doubleheader, he forced the Yankees to keep him. Nova went undefeated in his last 16 starts, posting a 12-0 record with a 3.25 ERA.
"It would have been easy for him to storm out or to talk to his buddies and tell them how unhappy he was, and I never heard anything," Girardi said. "I never heard a word about his displeasure with anything that we did. He just went to work, and that's unusual, because usually you hear something through the grapevine. But not this time."
As the playoffs approached, Nova took some time to watch video of Andy Pettitte's postseason starts. What Nova was interested in was Pettitte's poise in big situations, and Nova impressed with that during the course of the season, appearing unflappable at times.
"He really helped me a lot," Nova said. "He's a tremendous person. That's the example that you've got to take. Who got more success than him in the playoffs?"
Before Nova made his first start of the postseason, he took a few words of advice in person from the former Yankees left-hander as well.
"One thing [Pettitte] told me was if you got trouble in one inning -- any inning -- to get in [your] mind one pitch that can take you out of the game," Nova said. "One pitch can finish that inning, one pitch can take you out of the game. You have to try to execute that pitch."
Nova also was able to get over the hump and work deeper into games without letting big innings get out of control, something that had dented his numbers during his first big league experience in 2010.
The successful year could be a launching point to greater success for Nova, whom Girardi said last month would be expected to be in the club's 2012 rotation, along with Hughes.
"I would think they would be part of the rotation," Girardi said. "I know they're going to work hard, but nothing in life is ever given to you. You have to earn it."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.