YANKEES 7, BRAVES 0
LAKE BUENA VISTA – Since 2011, Ivan Nova has been the type of pitcher who can delight a manager with his stuff while at the same time force the same manager to tear out his hair because of his inconsistency.
On Wednesday, Nova thrilled manager Joe Girardi by pitching 6 1/3 innings of shutout baseball, allowing only two hits and not walking a batter. He also had the Braves hitters pulling their hair out as he struck out five and New York blanked Atlanta in front of a sellout crowd of 10,413 at Champion Stadium.
Nova (2-1) was in total command from his first pitch to his last, throwing 49 of his 68 pitches for strikes and allowing only five balls to be hit beyond the infield. The only two hits Nova allowed was a leadoff bloop single to Andrelton Simmons in the third inning and a one-out double to pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit in the sixth.
Meanwhile, the Yankees got to work early against Braves right-hander David Hale (0-2).
Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk in the first, stole second and advanced to third on a fly ball off the ball of Derek Jeter. Carlos Beltran then scored Gardner on a sharp single to right.
The Yankees added a pair of runs after two were out in the fourth when Adonis Garcia laced a two-run double to left to score Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson.
Beltran keyed another two-run rally in the seventh off right-hander Luis Vazquez.
After Jose Gil drew a leadoff walk, pinch-runner Antoan Richardson stole second and Gardner drew his third walk of the day. Jeter’s infield grounder took out Gardner at second but Richardson scored on an error by Simmons, who threw wildly attempting to turn a double play.
Beltran, who entered the game with only three hits all spring, delivered his third single of the day to drive in Yangervis Solarte, who was pinch-running for Jeter in what was his final appearance in a game at Champion Stadium. Jeter drew a loud ovation as he jogged back to the Yankees’ dugout.
In their last four spring games, all of them victories, the Yankees have outscored their opponents 29-5.
The Yankees improved their spring ledger to 12-9-2. The Braves dropped to 8-13.
- Nova, 27, was coming off two outings in which he was shelled for six runs on 17 hits in nine innings. But Nova looked more like the pitcher who was 7-4 with a 2.59 ERA in his final 15 starts of the 2013 season. Nova had the Braves either locked up or flailing away at the 12-to-6 break on his curveball. For those so-called “experts” who have said the Yankees’ starting rotation looks shaky in 2014 may want to reconsider that view. This rotation actually might be its strongest group since 2009 when the team won its 27th world championship.
- Beltran, 36, was 3-for-4 with two RBIs to lead the offense against the Braves. Beltran looks much more relaxed at the plate and the Yankees will look to benefit this season from the veteran switch-hitter batting in the third slot in the order. The eight-time All-Star is a career .283 hitter with 358 major-league home runs.
- The fact that Gardner drew three walks, stole a base and scored a run shows how committed he is to building upon his 2013 season. Gardner is hitting .303 but his on-base percentage is .385. It indicates that he could do some serious damage from the No. 9 spot in the batting order this year.
The Yankees have won four games in a row and they are getting great starting pitching (CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Nova) and the offense is beginning to break out in a big way. They have averaged more than seven runs a game in their past four games. There is nothing negative to say.
The Yankees essentially brought all of their starters to Lake Buena Vista with the exception of first baseman Mark Teixeira and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. . . . Ellsbury remained at the Yankees’ spring complex at Tampa, FL, nursing a sore right calf and Girardi told reporters on Wednesday that the veteran outfielder will play on Friday at the earliest. Ellsbury has been shagging fly balls and hitting but has not tested his leg by running yet. . . . Girardi is noncommittal about who will be selected as the team’s backup at second base for Roberts and at third base for Johnson. Veteran Eduardo Nunez, 26, who also can play shortstop, would appear to be the front-runner. But Girardi said that Dean Anna, Scott Sizemore, Solarte and Zelous Wheeler remain in the fight. Solarte, 26, has been the sensation of the spring, leading the team in hits (15), batting .500 with two homers and a team-leading eight RBIs.
After thrashing Boston on Tuesday 8-1 at George M. Steinbrenner Field the Yankees travel to Fort Myers, FL, to face the Red Sox again on Thursday.
Right-hander David Phelps (0-0, 2.63 ERA) will make his fifth start for the Yankees. Teixiera, Ichiro Suzuki, Francisco Cervelli and Nunez are scheduled to make the trip.
The Bosox plan to pitch injury-prone right-hander Clay Buchholz (2-1, 1.13 ERA).
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.