NEW YORK -- The clubhouse doors opened, and Ivan Nova was silently slumped in a seat by his locker, listening as pitching coach Larry Rothschild delivered a private sermon about the importance of throwing strikes.
The lesson was nothing a pitcher at the game's highest level shouldn't already know, but considering the way Nova's evening went, a reminder seemed appropriate. Nova stumbled and the Yankees couldn't make up for it, dropping a 5-3 decision to the Rangers on Friday.
"I just wasn't throwing strikes today," Nova said. "And if you can't command your pitches, you can't win a ballgame."
Nor did it help that the Yankees made some unwelcome franchise history, setting a team record by grounding into six double plays against Texas left-hander Matt Harrison.
Curtis Granderson hit an eighth-inning homer and the Yankees got the potential winning run to the plate in the ninth, but Russell Martin flied out against closer Neftali Feliz as the Bombers couldn't come all the way back.
On a day when the Yankees placed No. 3 starter Phil Hughes on the disabled list with right arm fatigue, Nova's importance took on even more value.
The Yankees have high hopes for the 24-year-old right-hander, but he must find a way to overcome trends that have impacted his career thus far.
Nova lasted just 4 1/3 innings for the second time in three starts this year, and that is not an encouraging sign for a rotation that still has just one member -- CC Sabathia -- who has completed seven innings in any start this season.
"Today, it was command," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He had some four-pitch, quick walks. That's unusual for him. He's pretty much a strike-thrower, so he was off."
The wheels came off in a three-run Rangers fifth inning. Nova walked the leadoff man, Mitch Moreland, and then plunked Julio Borbon on the shoes before uncorking a wild pitch that advanced the runners.
Ian Kinsler knocked in a run with a groundout, and Michael Young slashed a run-scoring single into left field. That was all for Nova, who departed after 86 pitches, but Dave Robertson uncorked a pair of wild pitches that helped produce the fifth Rangers run.
Texas opened the scoring against Nova in the second inning on a double-play ball, and Young knocked in the second Rangers run with a third-inning double. Nova was charged with five runs on four hits, and he walked five and struck out three.
"He was kind of wild," Texas' Nelson Cruz said. "He had great stuff, but the weather affected all of the pitchers and their command. The goal was to be patient."
Nova said that the main issue was not being able to throw his fastball over the plate, which limits his choices.
"I've just got to keep my head up and keep working hard until I get back to where I was in Spring Training," Nova said. "I'm still confident in myself. I've just got to keep working. Tomorrow, I'll be here early."
The Yankees knocked on the door all night against Harrison, but the six double-play balls squelched rallies, as the southpaw allowed two runs (one earned) in eight innings.
"Sometimes those things kind of happen; sometimes those balls are hit hard right at guys," Nick Swisher said. "That's really the first time we've seen him like that; really good command of his changeup. We'll remember that the next time."
New York hit into twin killings that ended the first, third, fifth and sixth innings, including one on a Derek Jeter hot shot that Harrison flagged and fired to second base, with an acrobatic play by Elvis Andrus completing the putout.
"If you have that many, he's doing something," Girardi said. "He's sinking the ball. You're making pitches when you have to. He helped himself, and that was the difference probably in the game."
Struggling lefty Boone Logan hurled a scoreless sixth inning for New York and Lance Pendleton -- recalled earlier in the day from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre -- made his Major League debut, striking out two in three innings of work.
"He threw strikes," Girardi said of Pendleton. "For the first time pitching at Yankee Stadium, against a team that went to the World Series last year, I was impressed."
The Yanks' first run came across in the third inning, as Granderson reached on a two-base error charged to Cruz and scored on a Swisher RBI single to center field.
Harrison held the Yankees scoreless from there until the eighth, when Granderson connected for his third home run of the year, a solo shot into New York's bullpen. All three of Granderson's homers this year have come off left-handed pitching.
"The fact that my first three happen to be against them is definitely a little bit of a surprise," Granderson said. "But at the same time, it's a great thing to have that."
Facing Feliz in the ninth, Eric Chavez laced a pinch-hit single that drove home Alex Rodriguez, drawing New York within two runs.
Jorge Posada had a chance to belt a game-tying ninth-inning homer for the second time in as many nights, but he walked, and Feliz locked down his fifth save of the year by getting Martin to sky to medium-depth right field.
"One swing of the bat, and we win that game," Swisher said. "I'm just really proud of the guys in that spot. We pushed there toward the end of that game, and we took pride from the seventh inning on. I just think we might have to jump-start it a little earlier."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.