NEW YORK--When New York Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova (L, 4-2) has missed his target of late, he's paid a steep price.
Take the three-run home run he gave up to Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto in the fifth inning of Saturday's matinee at Yankee Stadium, for example. Yankees catcher Russell Martin called for a slider on the inner third of the plate, looking to tie up the left-handed hitting Votto. But Nova's 2-1, 88 mph slider didn't have enough bite, caught too much plate and ended up in the right-center field stands.
The Yankees were in a 2-2 tie with the Reds before that pitch was thrown, trailed 5-2 when it became a souvenir and were eventually beaten 6-5.
Now, here's what Yankees manager Joe Girardi should find disturbing, in spite of the career-high 12 strikeouts his sophomore starter recorded against Cincinnati. Nova, knocked around for five runs on seven hits in six innings on Saturday, gave up 13 homers over 28 games (27 starts) in 2011, but Votto's long ball marked the sixth he's allowed in his last four starts and 10th overall this season.
"The difference between last season and this season is the location of my pitches," Nova, talking to Yahoo! Contributor Network after dropping his second decision in four turns, said in Spanish. "Location is what matters. If the ball remains low in the zone, you get more ground balls. If it's up in the zone, you're going to get hit.
"I have to keep all of my pitches low," he added. "It doesn't matter which pitch I use, it has to stay low."
Martin, who hit a solo homer to right off Reds starter Homer Bailey (W, 2-3) (6.1 IP, 7H, 3R) in the third, initially said there's not "much of a difference" between Nova last year and this year, before conceding, "The difference is maybe [his] fastball being up a little bit more.
"But I don't really see much of a difference between him last year and this year. It's the same velocity. I think maybe [he could] be a bit more consistent with his off-speed pitches.
"But," Martin continued, "same Nova."
Well, "same Nova" would be better served making the necessary changes to reduce the frequency of his mistakes, because they've had a habit of clearing fences in 2012, and the Yankees' mediocrity could come back to haunt them in September should the AL East be as competitive then as it has been thus far through 40 games.