3/12/2013 5:30 P.M. ET
Mariano's influence has been great on Nova
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The stamp that Mariano Rivera has made on the Yankees organization cannot be measured by his record-setting save totals or by witnessing the magnificent cutter that has proved lethal for so many Louisville Sluggers across the years.
With Rivera planning to retire after this season, the Yankees know they will also be saying goodbye to a trusted voice in their clubhouse, one willing to counsel younger players in his authoritative and measured tone. When Rivera speaks, players like Ivan Nova have listened.
"He's Mariano Rivera. If he doesn't want to do it, he doesn't do it," Nova said. "I've got to feel special that he came to me and talked to me every day, trying to help me with anything that he thinks I can do better. We're going to miss Mo. Especially me."
After pitching four scoreless innings on Tuesday against the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park, Nova detailed how Rivera has taken action behind closed doors in recent years, such as late in 2011 when Nova was hitting a troubled stretch of starts.
"He told me, 'If you don't do what you're supposed to do, you're going to get sent down,'" Nova said. "He said, 'You're going to get sent down.' That means you're not doing everything necessary to stay, so you've got to keep doing more than what you're doing."
Coming off as part warning and part reprimand, Rivera's comments were quickly absorbed.
"When he told me that, I couldn't even look into his eyes. You feel bad," Nova said, pointing to his heart. "If Mariano Rivera tells you you're going to be sent down, you're not doing something right."
As Nova tries to rebound from last year's troubled 12-8, 5.02 ERA season, manager Joe Girardi said that Nova has again looked "hungry" to secure a rotation spot this spring.
That's a good sign after his confidence was rattled by a poor second half which forced him to be left off New York's playoff roster, but Rivera downplayed the impact his chats have had on that development.
"You want them to use their abilities, and he has a lot of abilities," Rivera said. "You're going to make sure they do whatever is right and they don't waste it. Last year he was good, but at the end, we missed him. That was important for us.
"He's young still, so we just have to reinforce that we need him. We need everyone here, and our kids come from the Dominican, Panama, Venezuela or whatever. We have to make sure they stay on top of their game. That's what I meant with that."
Nova said that the talks with Rivera made him feel like a trusted family member. Rivera recounted how when he was a young pitcher trying to establish his name at the big league level, he was taken in by an unlikely counselor in troubled veteran hurler Steve Howe.
"Steve Howe was real good to me," Rivera said. "Always was there, making sure I was doing the right things and motivating me always to do what is right and to go with everything that you have. I will never forget that, and that was '95. Now we are [in] 2013 and I'm trying to do it for the others."
Rivera isn't the first Yankees pitcher to bend Nova's ear. Nova had a good relationship with former Yankee A.J. Burnett, but noted on Tuesday that sometimes it was difficult to listen to Burnett's advice because Nova was winning games at the time while Burnett struggled.
Obviously, that has not been a problem with Rivera, whose wisdom and experience are universally respected throughout baseball.
This spring, Nova has altered his arm action to a tighter motion, which has been inducing more downhill plane on his fastball.
"To me, his inconsistency a lot of times last year was just his lack of command," Girardi said. "His command would get a little bit off. Not that he would walk people, but he didn't hit his spots, and I've seen an improvement in that."
Nova said that Rivera was not the technical force behind the mechanical changes, but Rivera certainly pushed Nova to scour the team's video archives in search of answers.
In hindsight, Nova said that Rivera's comments helped him to get over the disappointment of last season, and have also urged him to -- as he put it -- "wake up."
"If we can make the team better, we make the team better," Rivera said. "That's what it is all about. We can help each other, and that's what I want to do. I want to win and we have to do anything in our power to fulfill that."