Credit: Jonathan Dyer, USA TODAY Sports
Why do struggling Yankees achieve success when they are traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates? I am sure that it’s not the case for every former Yankee, but in recent years, it has felt that way.
Ivan Nova, facing his former teammates for the first time yesterday, picked up his first win of the spring with three innings of scoreless work. He gave up two hits and walked a batter, while striking out two, so it wasn’t a flawless performance, but a win is a win.
In 2016, Nova was 7-6 for the Yanks, with a 4.90 ERA in 21 starts. Moving over to Pittsburgh at the trading deadline, he started 11 games for the Pirates, going 5-2, with a much better 3.06 ERA.
He’ll never be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but still, the results are markedly different between the two cities. A free agent in the off-season, Nova scored a 3-year, $26 million deal to return to the Pirates. Like A.J. Burnett before him, Nova changed from a very inconsistent pitcher in the Bronx to a dependable starter in the Steel City. Another example is current San Francisco closer Mark Melancon. Admittedly, Melancon never got much of an opportunity in New York where he was once touted as the eventual successor for Mariano Rivera, but he struggled in other pressure cities like Boston before finding success in Pittsburgh. Today, he is paid among the elite closers in baseball, trailing only Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen in total dollars.
Russell Martin was not finished as a catcher when he left New York, but he rejuvenated his career in Pittsburgh. He was able to parlay that performance into a 5-year, $82 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Former Yankees backup catcher Francisco Cervelli is the starting catcher in Pittsburgh these days. If Austin Romine were to lose his backup job to Kyle Higashioka, he’d be wise to go ahead and buy a condo in Pittsburgh.
Rule 5 Draftee pitcher Tyler Webb, a Yankees farmhand, has pitched three innings for the Pirates this spring and has yet to give up a run. I don’t know his chances of making the Pirates opening day roster, but if he keeps pitching like he has, there’s no chance he’ll be offered back to the Yanks.
There’s no question the environment is more relaxed in Pittsburgh. Nova showing up at yesterday’s game with blonde hair was a solid indication that he no longer calls Yankee Stadium home.
Maybe Rob Refsnyder should push for a trade to Pittsburgh. He’d probably make the All-Star team next year.
I think if you put Nova back in pinstripes, he’d revert to the unreliable pitcher that he had become. Some guys just weren’t meant for the Main Stage. Still, you always wonder what could have been if they had only pitched or played like that for the Yankees.
Back to the spring game and Nova’s win, the Yankees got hammered by the Pirates, 13-1. My favorite for the #5 spot in the rotation, Bryan Mitchell, looked like Ed Whitson in a Yankees uniform. It wasn’t pretty. Evan Rutckyj, and his spring 19.29 ERA, ensured that he’ll be banished to the minors soon. Mitchell gave up 4 runs in 2 1/2 innings, while Rutckyj gave up 6 runs (4 earned) without recording an out.
It was just one of those games that it is best to quickly forget. With the loss, the Yankees fell to 9-3 for the spring.