Ivan Nova hasn't looked right since the All-Star break, and after his latest rocky outing the New York Yankees right-hander hardly sounded like a pitcher expecting to turn the corner anytime soon.
The next time he struggles against the Chicago White Sox will be the first.
Nova has been outstanding in his first four career starts against the White Sox, a trend he'll try to continue Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field by helping New York bounce back from a rough pitching performance in the series opener.
Nova (11-6, 4.76 ERA) went into the break on a roll, going 4-1 with a 1.70 ERA in his final seven starts, but a little time away seems to have been a very bad thing. He gave up four runs over 5 2-3 innings Thursday at Texas and actually lowered his post-break ERA to 7.02.
"It has been tough this year," Nova told the Yankees' official website. "A lot of people are expecting more from me, and I'm not happy with what I'm doing."
The Yankees (72-50) saw their AL East lead over Tampa Bay cut to four games after Monday's series-opening loss to the White Sox, but Nova's focus is clearly on winding up in the postseason rotation should New York get there.
"If my manager still has confidence in me, he's going to put me in the postseason, no matter if I throw good this month, or the next month," Nova said.
Nova has looked like a front-line starter against the White Sox (66-55), a team he could very well wind up facing in October. He's 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA in four career starts in the series, allowing one run in each outing.
The Chicago hitter with the most success against him - Alejandro De Aza, who's 5 for 7 with a homer - was placed on the disabled list prior to this game due to bruised left ribs.
After being swept over the weekend in Kansas City, the White Sox didn't miss a beat without their leadoff hitter in the series opener. Down 3-0 in the fifth, Chicago hit one homer apiece in each of the next four innings to win 9-6 and push its AL Central lead over Detroit back to two games.
"The energy was going down a little bit in Kansas City. We didn't get off to a good start tonight," said designated hitter Adam Dunn, who hit his major league-leading 36th homer. "I think it shows the resiliency of this team. ... We just kept battling.''
The Yankees, 26-17 against left-handed starters this season, will see White Sox southpaws in each of the next two games. First up is Francisco Liriano (4-10, 5.22), who's coming off his first win since being acquired from Minnesota.
Liriano held Toronto to two runs and three hits over 6 1-3 innings Thursday in a 7-2 road victory.
"It's been kind of up and down the last month,'' Liriano said. "I felt pretty good (Thursday). Physically I feel very good. Location-wise, pitching-wise, it was a good night.''
Liriano picked up his first win - in his seventh start including postseason - against the Yankees on Aug. 20, 2011, but was rocked for five runs, seven hits and four walks while lasting just 2 1-3 innings in an 8-3 loss April 17.
Derek Jeter homered and went 4 for 5 on Monday to raise his August average to .398. He tied Eddie Murray for 11th place on the career hits list (3,255).
"He just continues to have big days for us," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "That's what he's doing. It is pretty amazing."