SAN DIEGO -- The Yankees have been hopeful that Curtis Granderson's return will deliver some much-needed thunder into the heart of the lineup. It did on Saturday night, and Ivan Nova certainly appreciated the help.
Granderson belted a two-run homer in the seventh inning to support Nova's gem of a pitching performance, snapping a scoreless tie and helping carry the Yankees to a 3-0 victory over the Padres at Petco Park.
"It's still interesting," Granderson said. "I've still got to get reps, I've still got to get at-bats. One at-bat felt better than the other. One at-bat felt not as good as the other. But I'll continue to swing."
That's the plan. The homer was just Granderson's second of the year, having been limited to just 10 games this season due to injuries. Granderson hit a career-high 43 home runs last season for New York, and manager Joe Girardi believes that the slugger can continue to lengthen the order.
"It's always great for a hitter to do that, to get a little work in and then you see the dividends," Girardi said. "He was a part of all three runs tonight. I've talked about how Curtis can change the complexion of a game, really quickly, and that's what he did tonight."
Nova has been starved for run support in his last two outings, sent to tough-luck losses as the Yankees were blanked in both games by the Rangers and Rays, so Granderson's blast off Padres starter Tyson Ross seemed twice as nice.
The Yanks right-hander has been picking up the slack for a rotation that has needed some assistance with CC Sabathia struggling. Nova improved to 4-3 with a 2.08 ERA since returning from the disabled list on May 23, and he owns a 1.66 ERA in his last five starts.
"I've been feeling really good," Nova said. "Like I've said in the past, I don't remember the last time I felt the way I feel now. I'm working hard to try to repeat it every time. I'm trying to go out there and do my job, try to help the team to win games."
David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth inning and the Yankees gave closer Mariano Rivera an insurance run in the ninth, as Granderson singled and was nearly doubled off at first base on a Lyle Overbay lineout to center field.
Granderson then stole second base and scored on Jayson Nix's RBI single to right field, setting up Rivera's 35th save in 37 opportunities this season, as he pitched a clean ninth inning bathed in a flashbulb display reminiscent of postseason games.
There was some doubt when Nova returned if he'd be able to stick in the Yankees' rotation, but no one is asking those questions now. Nova retired 15 straight batters after allowing a second-inning double and held the Padres to just four hits overall.
"He's been really good since he's come back," Girardi said. "The big thing is that he stays consistent with his fastball. When he does, it just makes everything else that much more effective."
Nova walked one and struck out eight over seven innings, working efficiently in an 86-pitch effort. He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in his last eight outings, six of them starts.
"All my swings and misses were with the curveball," Nova said. "It was really good today, as it has been in the past. I had good command of the strike zone and was working both sides of the plate to righties and lefties. That allowed me to get quick outs."
"He's got good stuff," San Diego's Will Venable said. "He's really a two-pitch guy [fastball, curveball]. But he had good action on the curve below the strike zone. His fastball had good sinking action to it."
As sharp as Nova appeared, Ross matched him through the first six innings. Ross set down the first 13 batters he faced before Overbay notched a fifth-inning single, with Ross striking out a career-high nine.
Granderson shattered that run in the seventh, slugging a 381-foot blast to right-center with Alfonso Soriano aboard -- a rare sight for the Yankees, who have been Bronx Bombers in name only. They rank 14th among the 15 American League clubs with just 92 team homers.
"It was good. Any way to help the team out," Granderson said. "It was a scuffle against Ross out there. He had thrown really well against us. Finally, the third time around we were able to get just a little thing going with Soriano getting the bloop [single] there, and then finally to get a pitch that caught some of the plate."
The Padres threatened in the seventh against Nova as Venable stroked a leadoff double, but Nova responded by retiring the next two hitters via a strikeout and a groundout. After a walk, Nova escaped by catching Nick Hundley looking at a called third strike.
"I cannot let that guy score, especially [with us] not scoring that many runs," Nova said. "I had to keep that game close. I had a lefty coming up, my two-seamer was working really good with the lefties and my curveball was my strikeout pitch again. I said, 'OK, let's go for a strikeout and not let that guy score.'"