In another blow to a rotation that was already looking shaky as it was, New York Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova has elected to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair the partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow, as reported by the New York Daily News' Mark Feinsand.
The move obviously disappointed Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who nevertheless felt that Nova's decision was the most practical step, via MLB.com's Bryan Hoch:
"I think it's the right decision," manager Joe Girardi said. "I haven't really seen anyone rehab a partially torn ligament and have success. It seems what it does is just delay the inevitable of what's going to happen. Then instead of maybe missing a year and a little bit of time, you miss a couple of years."
The most likely replacement for Nova's fellow starter, Michael Pineda–who was suspended for ten games beginning Thursday night–figured to be right-hander David Phelps, who has prior experience as a member of the Yankees rotation. FOX Sports' Jon Morosi confirmed that sentiment on Thursday:
David Phelps is likely to take Michael Pineda's turn in the rotation on May 3.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) April 24, 2014
Luckily for the Yankees, Pineda will only miss one turn in the rotation, due to the Yankees' off-day on Monday, so his absence is more of a minor concern. It also appears that the Yankees have found a replacement for Nova, with Girardi stating that left-hander Vidal Nuno will take Nova's spot in the rotation, according to NJ.com's Brendan Kuty.
Nuno filled in nicely for Nova on Sunday by tossing five shutout innings during the Yankees' 12-inning victory over the Rays. However, he's certainly a risky choice in the long term given his lack of experience (four career starts) and limited success this season outside of his recent start. Even so, he remains the logical choice.
Should Nuno struggle, the next starter in line would likely be Phelps. The Yanks right-hander's stint in the rotation yielded mediocre results last season, as he posting a 4.98 ERA across 22 appearances (12 starts), but he's also shown flashes of brilliance in the past. Phelps put up impressive numbers in 2012 (3.34 ERA in 33 games, 11 starts), along with a track record of success throughout the minors (2.53 ERA in 93 games, 92 starts), and even his numbers last season were skewed by one bad start (2.1 IP, 9 ER).
This also opens up the possibility of the Yankees pursuing a mid- or late-season trade for a high-profile pitcher, should they remain in contention throughout the season. One option is Philadelphia Phillies starter Cliff Lee, whose hefty price tag has often been linked with the big-spending Yankees in the past.
At the very least, the Yankees appear to be gearing up for the strain that Pineda's and Nova's absences will put on the bullpen during the next several days. The team recently recalled right-handers Shane Greene and Bruce Billings from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, both of whom have extensive experience in starting roles in the minors.
In terms of monetary implications, Nova is arbitration eligible next season. That means the Yankees could pay him a salary of similar value if they tender him a contract in the hopes of a strong return from surgery. While that's still a ways off in the future, the Yankees will have to make a decision sooner or later regarding just what type of impact they believe Nova can make next season, as he'll likely return well after the season begins.
Of course, Nova's injury puts a dent in the Yankees' rotation, but it could also prove to be a bit of a blessing in disguise given the right-hander's early struggles. Nova posted an 8.27 ERA in four starts prior to his injury, with an even mix of solid and disastrous starts, though he looked lost on the mound more often than not. Perhaps Nova's absence will give Nuno or Phelps an opportunity to shine in a starting role, actually bolstering a Yankees rotation that has appeared to be in trouble to begin the season.