NEW YORK -- Ivan Nova understood last season when, with the Yankees fighting for a playoff spot, the bullpen was barging into games in which he might have preferred to continue pitching deeper.
The landscape has changed, and the right-hander is being trusted with more freedom. He rewarded his teammates with six innings and a winning effort on Monday, as the Yankees defeated the Twins, 4-3.
"Everything was really good; I feel really good," Nova said. "I'll keep looking forward to my next one and try to do better than I did today."
Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada hit two-run homers off Twins right-hander Scott Baker to support Nova's effort, with his leash extended as the Yankees challenge their No. 4 starter to learn on the job.
"These are things that he's going to have to do for us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Nova. "He's going to have to get through these situations. It's all part of learning how to pitch at this level."
Nova started with three hitless innings before the 24-year-old was forced to get creative the second time through the lineup, struggling with two-out damage that led to three runs.
Nova was hurt by a two-run double from Jim Thome in the fourth inning and a run-scoring Tsuyoshi Nishioka double in the fifth.
With Nishioka representing the tying run at second base and the Yankees' bullpen stirring, Nova snapped off a couple of curveballs and induced Joe Mauer to ground out for what would be one of the key moments of the night.
"It shows that he's matured," Girardi said. "He's facing a guy that's extremely tough; he's the only catcher to win three batting titles. We know what type of hitter he is. And he got him out."
In the sixth, Nova got a double-play grounder and then was given another crack at Thome, who had smashed a changeup out to right-center field for the first two Minnesota runs.
Thinking strikeout, Nova went to his fastball and curveball against Thome, finally fanning the slugger to win a six-pitch battle.
"That's emotion," Nova said. "He hit the double. When I faced him, I said, 'I've got to take you out right now.' That's why I did that."
Rodriguez said that he sees Nova stronger and throwing with more conviction than he did last season.
"Nova did exactly what we expect him to do -- go out and give us a chance to win," Rodriguez said. "He's got good stuff. Tonight, he made some pitches where I think perhaps last year, that game could have gotten away from him."
But Yankees ace CC Sabathia said the building blocks have been there all along for Nova.
"I noticed that right away when he came up, how poised he was," Sabathia said. "He came up and had a lot of confidence and knew how to pitch. You could see that right away."
A four-run lead after two innings held up, as Rodriguez and Posada increased the Yankees' early-season homer output to 11 round-trippers in the first four games.
After Mark Teixeira was hit in the right foot by a pitch, Rodriguez connected in the first inning for his second blast of the year, turning on a Baker fastball for a line-drive rocket to left field.
With his two RBIs on Monday, Rodriguez surpassed Hall of Famer Dave Winfield (1,834) on the all-time RBI list, while equaling Rafael Palmeiro's career RBI total.
"I feel pretty good," Rodriguez said. "I feel like when I hit strikes and the ball hits the barrel, it's coming off pretty good."
Posada extended the Yankees' lead in the second inning, smacking his third two-run homer in the last two games when he connected with a heater and delivered it to the right-field seats with Nick Swisher aboard.
The Yankees threatened for more in the fourth off Baker, but Delmon Young saved at least one run with a diving catch on a Brett Gardner liner toward the left-field line.
Baker completed six innings, allowing four runs on five hits while walking four and striking out four.
"We got behind early, but we battled and just couldn't come up with one more run," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Their back end of the bullpen is pretty good."
Joba Chamberlain pitched a spotless seventh and both Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera worked around singles to close out what Nova hopes is the first of many victories this season.
"The losses are going to come, but it's win, win and win," Nova said. "Those are the three goals -- win every time."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.