Ivan Nova injury: Yankees could turn to Vidal Nuño, trade market for replacements

Brian Blanco

Nova has a partial UCL tear in his elbow and could be done for the year if he needs Tommy John surgery.

The New York Yankees may need some more starting pitching after an MRI revealed Ivan Nova has suffered a partially torn UCL, reports Chad Jennings of USA Today. The news could mean more starts for Vidal Nuño, who started against Tampa Bay on Sunday, unless another option is acquired.

Nova left the game Friday against the Rays after feeling a pop, but said afterwards he wasn't feeling any pain. He allowed eight runs in four innings before giving way to the bullpen in a 16-1 loss.

The AL East-leading Yanks have had pleasant early results from Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda, but Nova and CC Sabathia have struggled for the better part of the year.

Perhaps Nova's slow start was indicative of his injury. Even if he manages to avoid Tommy John surgery in the immediate future, UCL injuries typically lead to the operation.

The Yankees rotation is settled for the most part. With Sabathia, Tanaka, Pineda, and Hiroki Kuroda, New York has what could be a strong group to lean on, but the fifth spot in the sequence could be in flux if Nuño falters.

As things stand now, Nuño has an opportunity to earn that spot. He put together an impressive, albeit small, sample in 2013, pitching to a 2.25 ERA in 20 innings. His stats in the minors are promising as well. Over the last two years, the 26-year-old has cruised through the high minors -- 2.45 ERA in 20 Double-A starts and 1.44 ERA in five Triple-A starts.

Nuño could save the Yankees from having to search for a replacement on the trade market, but if he doesn't general manager Brian Cashman might be forced to begin to do so.

The most available starting pitcher at the moment would likely be Cubs righty Jeff Samardzija. Unlike most other clubs, Chicago isn't quite ready to make a significant push for contention at this point. They could use a few more minor league pitchers in their system, and although the Yanks' top prospect is catcher Gary Sanchez, they also have right-handed pitching prospect Jose Ramirez. Ramirez, 24, has an extensive injury history, but if the Yankees were to pair him with a young minor league arm like Rafael De Paula or Manny Banuelos, the Cubs might consider shipping off Samardzija.

Other than Samardzija, the trade market would probably be abbreviated at this point, since its so early in the year.

The Yanks are likely to give Nuño a long look, and reevaluate the situation closer to the trade deadline, if Nova does indeed require surgery.

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