Maybe that No. 2 starter the New York Yankees have been trying to identify all season has been there all along. Oh, except for most of the month of July, that is, when the Yankees shuffled him off to AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre thinking they had no room for him.
If you haven't figured it out by now, it is looking more and more like that No. 2 guy in their rotation behind CC Sabathia is 24-year-old rookie right-hander Ivan Nova, who won his ninth straight decision Saturday in a 3-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins. Nova was brilliant, scattering five hits over seven shutout innings.
Nova (13-4) now leads all rookies in victories. That despite being sent to AAA after winning a July 1 start that was his fourth straight victory. Since returning the big leagues on July 30 Nova has reeled off five victories in five starts, with only one of those games being a less-than-stellar performance.
"He pitched great. His slider was really, really good," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said about Nova.
Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira hit back-to-back home runs with two outs in the seventh for New York, which took three of four from Minnesota and have won eight of 11 overall. The Yankees still own a half-game lead over the Boston Red Sox in the AL East.
Joe Mauer had three hits for the Twins, losers in six of their last nine games.
The outing for Minnesota's Blackburn turned out to be a brief cameo as he departed with a right lateral forearm strain after walking the bases loaded with one out in the second inning.
Anthony Swarzak took over on the mound and pitched out of the jam, striking out Eduardo Nunez and retiring Derek Jeter on a fly ball to right field to keep the game scoreless.
The Yankees loaded the bases again in the fifth, but a returning Alex Rodriguez popped up the first pitch from Phil Dumatrait (1-2) to end the inning.
Rodriguez, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list on Sunday, hadn't played for New York since July 7 due to a torn meniscus in his right knee that required surgery.
Nova bailed out his defense in the bottom of the frame. After Thome led off with a single, Danny Valencia lofted a fly ball to the gap in right- center. Granderson and Nick Swisher converged on the ball, but neither caught it. The play was ruled a double. Nova, though, struck out both Rene Tosoni and Matt Tolbert swinging before Drew Butera grounded out weakly to first base.
New York got on the board in the sixth when Robinson Cano began the inning with a double off Dumatrait and scored on Russell Martin's sacrifice fly to center field.
The Yankees extended their lead in the next inning. Jose Mijares quickly retired the first two batters before Granderson recorded his third career inside-the-park home run. Teixeira then went the traditional route, driving a pitch over the wall in left.
New York's David Robertson got Valencia on a fly ball to right to escape a bases-loaded jam in the eighth.
Mariano Rivera earned his 33rd save of the season with a flawless ninth.