Ivan Nova didn't make a strong case during spring training that he deserved a spot in the New York Yankees' rotation, but his first start of 2012 showed he's right where he belongs.
Nova will try to become the first Yankee to win 14 consecutive decisions in nearly 51 years in Sunday night's series finale in the Bronx, where he'll face the Los Angeles Angels - the last team to beat him.
After leading major league rookies with 16 victories last season, Nova was anything but sharp this spring with an 8.06 ERA.
The right-hander, though, struck out seven in seven strong innings in his season debut, a 6-2 win at Baltimore on Monday that prevented the Yankees from opening 0-4 for the first time since 1973.
"I took the spring to work on what I needed to work on," Nova told the Yankees' official website. "I took that and put it in the game today and got good results. That's what we have to keep doing."
Nova (1-0, 2.57 ERA), who lasted just two innings in his last home start - a 3-2 loss to Detroit in Game 5 of the 2011 AL division series - due to a tight right forearm, will try to get the Yankees (4-4) back into the win column after their four-game winning streak ended with Saturday's 7-1 loss to the Angels.
Los Angeles (3-5) had dropped three straight and five of six.
The Angels were the last team to defeat Nova, winning 3-2 in Anaheim on June 3. Since giving up three runs in that game, Nova is 13-0 with a 3.20 ERA in 17 starts.
The last Yankee pitcher to win 14 straight decisions was Whitey Ford from June 2-Aug. 10, 1961.
Nova will get his first look at Albert Pujols, who had an RBI double and recorded his second two-hit game of the season Saturday.
However, the three-time MVP is still looking for his first home run in an Angels uniform. If Pujols doesn't hit the ball out of the park in the series finale, it will be the first time he hasn't homered in his first nine games of a season.
"The thing we don't want to do is put too much pressure on yourself,'' Pujols said.
Vernon Wells may have been doing that following a rough 2011, but the Angels left fielder may have found his hitting stroke with a pair of two-hit games in the last three contests. He hit one of the Angels' three homers Saturday - his second of the season and 250th of his career.
Wells needed 28 games last season to hit his second home run.
Needing a fifth starter for the first time in 2012, Los Angeles is expected to activate Jerome Williams (strained left hamstring) from the disabled list Sunday when it completes its six-game trip.
The veteran right-hander was 4-0 with a 3.68 ERA in 10 appearances - six starts - in 2011.
This will be the first time Williams faces New York.
Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez remains one homer shy of passing Ken Griffey Jr. for fifth all-time with 631 after going 0 for 4 on Saturday.
Derek Jeter went 2 for 5 in the loss and has his most hits (13) through eight games since he had 14 in 1999.
The Yankees captain is a .333 hitter in 154 games against Los Angeles.
Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos is 4 for 5 with a homer lifetime against Nova.
Los Angeles' last series win in the Bronx was a three-game sweep May 25-27, 2007.