Former Yankees prospect Jose Tabata smoked a line drive into the glove of new Yankees right fielder Carlos Beltran on Wednesday afternoon, securing the Pirates’ first out of the second inning.

Then Joe Girardi walked to the mound to execute his first pitching change of the Grapefruit League schedule: Out with Ivan Nova, in with Bruce Billings.

“We were talking at [a limit of] 35 [pitches for Nova],” Girardi said after the Yankees lost their exhibition opener, 6-5 to the Pirates at McKechnie Field. “[I said], ‘You’re at 37. When the odometer’s a few too many miles, we go backwards for a little bit to get it where it’s supposed to be.’ ”

“I didn’t understand what he said,” Nova admitted, smiling. “We had a good conversation. Short, but good.”

“The analogy wasn’t working,” Girardi conceded.

Let’s steal one word from that awkward exchange and move forward: For the Yankees to attain their best chance of eradicating their nightmarish 2013, Nova can’t go backwards.

On a starting rotation that features multiple sinking stocks and one great mystery, Nova, the Yankees’ best pitcher in last year’s second half, represents a chance for both carryover and progress. He picked up just four outs with his 37 pitches on Wednesday, walking two and striking out one while allowing two hits, yet no one seemed terribly concerned this early in the spring. As long as Nova’s arm appeared strong, and it did, hope exists that he can match — or even better, exceed — his 3.10 ERA from last year in 139 1/3 innings pitched.