NEW YORK -- At the end of May, when Ivan Nova was sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, manager Joe Girardi said the pitcher had two options -- he could pout about it, or he could work to prove he belongs in the Major Leagues. Nova chose the latter, and it paid off.
After making three solid outings for Scranton, Nova's back with the Yankees, and started Sunday's series finale against the Rays.
Nova delivered, tossing a quality start but taking the loss. He hurled 6 2/3 innings of three-run ball while striking out seven batters. His improved control vanished in the seventh inning when he hit back-to-back batters, but for the first six innings, he was better.
"You don't want to get sent down, but sometimes that helps," Nova said. "That helps you to be where you need to be. But I'm here right now, and that's a good thing."
In three starts for the RailRiders, Nova went 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA, and struck out 17 batters in 17 2/3 innings.
Girardi said much of that has to do with his improved fastball command and a sharp curveball.
"I expect him to go out and pitch well," Girardi said before Sunday's game. "We sent him down there to get stretched out and get some consistent work. His command of his fastball is good, he has a chance to be really good."
Sunday's outing was, at the very least, a flash of talent for the otherwise inconsistent Nova, who exited the last start he made in April with pain in his right elbow and was placed on the disabled list the following day with inflammation in his right triceps.
When Nova was activated from the DL on May 23, he was sent to the bullpen, and he was effective in relief. In his last appearance with the Yankees, on May 29, he threw five innings in relief against the Mets and allowed only one run on five hits, with one walk and six strikeouts.
But just two days later, the Yankees optioned him to Scranton -- along with pitcher Vidal Nuno -- to clear room on the roster for Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis, who were being activated from the DL.
The Yankees haven't announced their long-term plan for Nova, but for him it's all about proving he belongs in the bigs.
"Obviously, when you've had a taste of this life, you don't want to be in the Minor Leagues. This is a place that every player dreams about being," Girardi said. "The trick is not getting here, the trick is staying here for a lot of guys."
Girardi sticks with the hot hand of Almonte
NEW YORK -- On Sunday, for the third straight game, Vernon Wells was out of the starting lineup, his spot taken by rookie phenom Zoilo Almonte.
Even after smacking a bases-clearing ground-rule double to give New York a two-run lead in the seventh inning of its 7-5 win over the Rays on Saturday, Wells began Sunday's game on the bench as the Yankees faced the right-handed Chris Archer.
Wells' splits make the decision obvious. He bats .181 with a .233 slugging percentage against righties, but those numbers bump to .283 and .424, respectively, against left-handers. So as long as Almonte keeps hitting, he's the better option against righties, but Wells will get his cuts -- especially against lefties.
"We're going to be in a long stretch here coming up, so everyone's going to have to play," manager Joe Girardi said. "I don't ever pin myself in -- I try not to, at least -- and I'll manage it day to day and see how the guys are doing. Sometimes you ride a hot hand -- that's what you do in this game -- and we'll evaluate another day."
For now, Almonte is as hot a hand as there is in baseball. He's gone 5-for-8 since being called up, with one home run and one walk.
What stood out to Girardi has been Almonte's discipline at the plate. He smacked a two-out, two-run single in the third inning on Saturday and drew a bases-loaded walk in the fifth.
"[Drawing a] bases-loaded walk is not always easy for a young kid to do," Girardi said. "We were having trouble scoring runs yesterday, we had some opportunities we weren't able to cash in early -- his discipline there was very good."
Slumping Adams gets vote of support from Girardi
NEW YORK -- When David Adams first arrived in New York, he didn't wait long to make a first impression. He got his first Major League hit in his first game -- on his birthday, no less -- and homered a few days later, and instilled hope that the Yankees could perhaps withstand a slew of injuries.
But after batting .300 in his first 10 big league games, he's fallen into a slump. Through 25 career games, his average has plummeted 100 points, and it wasn't until Saturday that he drew his first career walk. On Sunday, manager Joe Girardi threw his support behind the rookie, declaring him the everyday third baseman.
"It's a great opportunity for him to show us on an everyday basis, but teams make adjustments to you very quickly," Girardi said. "In this day and age, with every game on TV and all the video, it's not hard to see what a guy's strengths and weaknesses are, and you have to make some adjustments."
Girardi acknowledged that Adams might be pressing. His job likely isn't permanent -- when either Alex Rodriguez or Kevin Youkilis return, the third-base job is likely his -- but for now he's out there trying to prove himself.
"It's hard as a young player when you're trying to prove that you belong and you hear, 'This guy might be back on Friday, this guy might be back in a couple of weeks,' and all of a sudden, you try to do too much," Girardi said. "And I think that's something that you have to try to guard against."
Chris Iseman and David Wilson are associate reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.