Could Ivan Nova steal spot in Phillies starting rotation?

Ivan Nova #43, formerly of the Detroit Tigers (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
Ivan Nova #43, formerly of the Detroit Tigers (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

Pitching is still a concern for the Philadelphia Phillies heading into the 2021 season. While they added a few pieces — including Archie Bradley and Jose Alvarado — the starting rotation has some question marks. Aaron Nola is the bonafide ace, while Zack Wheeler looked like a strong No. 2 during the shortened 2020 season. After that, there are concerns.

Zach Eflin has shown flashes of excellence, but has to be more consistent throughout the season. He’s still a nice piece to the puzzle, but fans might have more confidence if he was the fourth or fifth starter in the rotation. Spencer Howard has the tools to compete in the majors, but it didn’t look like he was quite ready as a rookie last year. Vince Velasquez has been given plenty of opportunities at this point.

Will Ivan Nova sneak into the Phillies rotation?

In late January, the Phillies quietly signed veteran righty Ivan Nova to a minor-league deal. Nova started just four games in 2020 before his season ended due to right triceps tendinitis. He had a poor showing in those four games finishing with a 1.63 WHIP and an 8.53 ERA. Those numbers were inflated by an outing in which he allowed eight earned runs in 3 and 1/3 innings. The next day he landed on the injured list. His first two starts went pretty well, as he started with five earned runs allowed in 10 2/3 innings. It was nothing to ride home about but he kept his team in both games and ended up with a no-decision in each of them.

The 34-year-old has been around for quite a while and has been a serviceable pitcher for teams in the past. While he never became a superstar, he can be a back-end of the rotation starter who keeps games within reach. Nova isn’t a flamethrower but if his command is good, he can usually give a team a quality start or something very close to it. The problem is that the command isn’t always there and he tends to have a few outings each year where he implodes. At the same time, he also has outings where he pitches complete games and looks like an ace.

That is more than Velasquez offers. While Vince did have a 16-strikeout shutout in his first year in red pinstripes, things have not been the same since. In recent years, he has struggled with command and tends to run up his pitch count by the fourth or fifth inning. If he’s not walking hitters, he’s struggling to keep the ball out of each hitter’s wheelhouse. Hopefully, he can clean it up, but it feels like he has been given too many second chances.

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The rotation competition for Ivan Nova is more than just Vince Velasquez.

Nova will also have to beat out recently signed veterans Chase Anderson and Matt Moore. Outside of a poor outing against the Yankees last year, Anderson was fairly reliable and has been for most of his career. It will really depend on which “Anderson” shows up this spring. If Nova can stay consistent and at least prevent things from spiraling out of control, he could have a shot at beating out the 33-year-old for the job.

The 31-year-old Moore will get his shot as well. If the Phils want a lefty in the rotation and he impresses them at camp, he could get the nod. He was not able to stay on the field in 2019, and pitched most recently in Japan during the 2020 season. Maybe he can have a late-career resurgence, but he has a lot of work to do this spring.

Nova is a low-risk signing who can earn his spot in the rotation this spring. His veteran presence could be beneficial for some of the younger pitchers. While the Phillies need to look into better options to boost the rotation, Nova could certainly slide in at the fifth spot or even move to the bullpen.

Even with the new additions, the bullpen could still use plenty of arms. Time will tell whether or not Nova will get his shot in Philly. His first chance will be on Sunday, as he starts the spring opener opposite the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland.

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