TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Ivan Nova has had a strong spring and it appears he will soon be rewarded.
Nova all but locked up a spot in the New York Yankees' rotation Friday night, pitching six impressive innings in a 6-4 victory over the Houston Astros.
``I thought he battled,' Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. ``He's had some time off. Figured out a way to get through six innings when his stuff was not extremely sharp. That's actually maturing, and that's a good thing because you're not always going to have great stuff and be sharp. You have to figure out how to do it.'
Girardi is expected to announce Saturday that Nova will fill one of two open spots in the rotation. Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon were all but assured positions on the pitching staff earlier Friday when the Yankees traded right-hander Sergio Mitre to Milwaukee for outfielder Chris Dickerson.
``When he got traded, I know there's more space now,' Nova said. ``That makes me feel good, too. But it's not like I wanted him to leave.'
Garcia is the front-runner for the second starting spot. If Colon is not a starter, he will likely replace Mitre as the long man out of the bullpen.
Girardi, general manager Brian Cashman and other team officials discussed the opening-day roster on Friday. A number of other announcements could be forthcoming Saturday.
Eric Chavez had a solo homer and Brett Gardner added a two-run shot off Astros No. 5 starter Nelson Figueroa in the second. Russell Martin hit a two-run triple in the sixth.
Houston right fielder Hunter Pence played after sitting out Thursday's game and had a two-run single in the third. Pence cut his right shin on Wednesday, an injury that required four stitches.
Nova was coming off a start on March 16 when he threw six no-hit innings against Baltimore. The right-hander, who took part in a simulated game between starts, has given up four runs over 20 innings in his five appearances, including four starts.
On Friday, Nova allowed three hits, two walks and struck out two. He threw 59 of 98 pitches for strikes.
``I didn't throw a lot of strikes, but I still felt good,' Nova said.
Figueroa worked out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the first by striking out Robinson Cano and inducing a double-play grounder from Nick Swisher. The right-hander gave up five runs and nine hits in six innings.
Chavez was back in the lineup after being out with a right calf injury. Swisher, who fouled a ball off his left foot Wednesday, was the DH.
Houston shortstop Clint Barmes will have X-rays on Saturday for a bruised left hand. He was hit by Nova's pitch in the third.
NOTES: Joan Steinbrenner, the wife of former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, was at the game. George Steinbrenner died at the age of 80 last July. ... New York spring training instructor Reggie Jackson plans to attend opening day at Yankee Stadium on Thursday. The Hall of Famer missed most of the exhibition season after having back surgery. ... Pence wound up 1 for 4, including two strikeouts. ... Gustavo Molina is getting serious consideration for New York's backup catcher spot. He is competing with rookies Jesus Montero and Austin Romine. ... Yankees opening-day starter CC Sabathia will pitch in a minor league game Saturday.
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