Ivan Nova was signed by the Yankees as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2004. From that point forward, until he was dealt to the Pirates last August, the Yankees' organization was all he knew.
After showing promise as a 16-game winner during his first season in the rotation as a 24-year-old in 2011, Nova experienced ups and downs, battled and overcame injuries and was even jerked back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen.
On Sunday, he was scheduled to do battle against that Yankees club for the first time in his career.
When asked about any additional motivation facing his former club, Nova responded, "We have a really good plan going on. It doesn't matter if we're facing our former teammates". While that's the right thing to say publicly, you have to believe that the right-hander wanted to give this start a little extra.
Pirates' catcher Chris Stewart seemed to echo that sentiment when asked about it. The veteran backstop quipped, "Coming in, you knew it was going to be something special playing against the team he grew up with... I know he wanted to get a win, a little extra motivation today. He was outstanding."
Nova, as he so often has since joining the Pirates, delivered another extremely impressive outing on Sunday. He struck out a season-high seven batters while allowing just one run on four hits over his seven innings of work.
A solo homer by Jacoby Ellsbury in the seventh inning was the only blemish on his afternoon.
Nova also did something on Sunday that had been out of character for him to this point in the season. He walked a batter. Nova hadn't issued a free pass through 20 innings in his first three starts and recorded the first eight outs on Sunday without incident.
The intimidating opponent who forced Nova to throw four pitches out of the zone? None other than Yankees' starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery in his first plate appearance as a professional. That's not just in the big leagues either, the rookie hurler never had an at-bat in the minor leagues either. It was his first plate appearance since his senior year of high school in 2011.
Nova has done nothing but dominate since he put on a Pirates' uniform last August. Whether it was the work of notorious pitching guru Ray Searage, or simply a change of scenery, he's a force to be reckoned with in the National League.
In 11 starts with the Pirates to finish the 2016 season, Nova registered a 3.06 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 52/3 K/BB ratio in 64 2/3 innings. Thus far in 2017, a 2.00 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 15/1 K/BB ratio in 27 frames.
That sample size is growing continually larger and is looking less and less like a mirage. It's starting to look as though Nova is going to be an asset in mixed leagues for the duration of the season and should deliver substantial profit to fantasy owners who called his name in the later rounds of drafts.
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MRI coming for Miller
Shelby Miller was lifted from his start against the Dodgers in the fifth inning on Sunday due to tightness in his forearm.
Miller had been cruising to that point in the game, throwing four shutout innings before inexplicably losing his command in the fifth. He walked the first two batters to start the inning before surrendering a two-run double to Corey Seager. That prompted the visit from the team trainer and a discussion which ultimately resulted in Miller being pulled.
The 26-year-old right-hander had been an early bright spot in the Diamondbacks' rotation. He entered Sunday's start with a 3.50 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 17/7 K/BB ratio in 18 innings through his first three starts and had shown an uptick in velocity from last season.
Now the D'Backs are forced to play the waiting game. He's scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday that will hopefully provide some clarity and an estimate on a potential return to action.
Miller said after Sunday's game that it's the first time he has experienced any issues in his forearm, but seemed upbeat. "Personally, I feel like I'll probably feel better tomorrow," the right-hander noted, "I don't think it's that big of an issue."
It seems likely that regardless of the MRI results, Miller will probably miss at least his next start as a minimum. Fantasy owners will now have to cross their fingers and hope for the best from Monday's exam. Expect an update from the Diamondbacks on Monday afternoon.
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Phillies go back-to-back-to-back
The Phillies put on quite the impressive power display in the eighth inning of Sunday's victory over the Braves.
With the score tied at 1-1, Michael Saunders led off the eighth inning with a double off of Braves' lock-down setup man Arodys Vizcaino. That's when Cesar Hernandez stepped up and walloped his fourth home run of the season, a laser into the stands in right field.
Vizcaino had allowed just seven home runs in 103 2/3 innings in his big league career entering play on Sunday, but he wasn't done yet.
Aaron Altherr jumped on the very next pitch, depositing it into the Phillies' bullpen in center field.
That was all for Vizcaino who was replaced by Ian Krol, but it wasn't the end of the Phillies' power barrage.
Odubel Herrera battled back from an 0-2 count to run it full. He then fouled off a tough two-strike pitch before crushing his second homer of the season to left-center, complete with a high-quality bat flip.
American League Quick Hits: Nelson Cruz homered and plated five runs in a rout of the Athletics... Taylor Motter clubbed a grand slam in that one, his fifth homer of the season... Daniel Wright fired five scoreless innings in a spot start against the Blue Jays... Marcus Stroman allowed just one earned run on seven hits in a complete game victory over the Angels... Joey Gallo slugged his sixth home run in a win over the Royals... Jorge Bonifacio belted his first career homer in a loss to the Rangers... Yu Darvish fanned eight over eight innings in a victory over the Royals... John Hicks clubbed his first career home run and drove in five as the Tigers walloped the Twins... Francisco Lindor launched his fifth home run in a losing effort against the White Sox... Mookie Betts homered and plated three in a victory over the Orioles... Andre w Benintendi went 5-for-5 in that contest, becoming the youngest Red Sox player to record five hits in a game since Tony Conigliaro in 1967... Eduardo Rodriguez struck out seven over six shutout innings against the O's to earn his first victory... Jose Altuve had three hits and a long ball in a win over the Rays...Jake Marisnick left Sunday's game after experiencing concussion symptoms... Kendall Graveman (shoulder) is on track to return to the A's rotation on Thursday... Kyle Seager was scratched from the Mariners' starting lineup with a sore hip... Rajai Davis missed his third straight start due to a tight left hamstring... The Athletics acquired Ryan LaMarre from the Angels for cash considerations... Salvador Perez missed his second straight start due to a sore neck... J.D. Martinez (foot) remains on track for a return in late April or early May... David Price is scheduled to throw a 45-50 pitch bullpen session on Monday... Dustin Pedroia will undergo an MRI on his left knee and ankle on Monday since the swelling has yet to go down as anticipated... George Springer's consecutive games played streak came to an end due to a tight left hamstring, but he should be able to return on Tuesday... The Mariners surprisingly designated Leonys Martin for assignment. While he's likely to clear waivers given his contract, he won't be out of work for long with the Tigers seen as an obvious fit.
National League Quick Hits: Stephen Strasburg was placed on the paternity leave list... Jacob Turner will be recalled from Triple-A Syracuse to start for the Nationals on Monday against the Rockies in Colorado... Daniel Murphy clubbed a first-inning grand slam to lead the charge as the Nats completed a sweep of the Mets... Ryan Zimmerman continued his hot-hitting with his sixth homer in that game... Koda Glover recorded his second consecutive save with a perfect ninth inning... Brandon McCarthy struck out six over seven innings of two-run ball in a win over the D'Backs... Kyle Freeland hurled seven shutout innings in a win over the Giants... Mike Leake earned his victory with six innings of two-run ball against the Brewers... Seung Hwan Oh recorded a save for the third straight day in a win over the Brewers... Anthony Rizzo homered for the third consecutive game in a loss to the Reds... Bronson Arroyo fanned seven in a victory over the Cubs... Ian Desmond (hand) could see some playing time in the outfield upon his return... Kirk Nieuwenhuis passed through waivers unclaimed and was sent outright to Triple-A Colorado Springs... Joc Pederson was forced to leave Sunday's game due to right groin tightness... X-Rays on Denard Span's shoulder came back negative... Zach Cozart was a late scratch from the Reds lineup due to a sore left wrist.