Pittsburgh Pirates: Ivan Nova Just Keeps Rolling Along

Ivan Nova was a hard-luck loser on Monday, but his continued success with the Pittsburgh Pirates has been a sight to behold.

Ivan Nova deserved much more for his efforts on Monday night than a mark in the loss column. The Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander tossed an eight-inning complete game, holding the division rival Cardinals to just two runs on five hits. But the most impressive aspect of the performance? Nova finished the outing with only 78 pitches.

Unfortunately, the Pirates’ hapless offense wasted Nova’s gem, mustering only one run in the contest’s final frame and falling by a score of 2-1. While the Bucs will be frustrated that they couldn’t take advantage of a sterling effort from their starter, they have to remain encouraged by what they’re seeing from Nova. Despite some doubts about whether he could maintain his excellent form since his trade from the Yankees, he has yet to turn back into a pumpkin.

Nova’s efficient display last night in St. Louis shows the kind of pitcher he can be. Even at age 30, it seems his full potential has never quite been unlocked, at least not while a member of the Yankees. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has built a reputation for maximizing the talents of once middling pitchers, and with each quality start it appears we can more confidently place Nova among his success stories, like another former Yankee in A.J. Burnett.

The eight-year veteran started his 2017 campaign with a six-inning, one-run performance against the Braves. The Pittsburgh bats gave him five runs of support in that one, helping him notch his first (and as of now only) win of the season. Five days later he turned in a more uneven outing, though it still goes in the books as a QS. Nova surrendered four runs (three earned) on eight hits over six frames.

Nova’s machine-like precision has been his trademark through his first three starts of the year, and really ever since he joined the Pirates. He hasn’t issued a walk in any of his 20 innings so far this season. To add some broader perspective, in the 84.2 innings he’s thrown wearing a black-and-gold uniform, he has walked only three batters. Three. That comes out to a microscopic 0.3 BB/9. And if you’re keeping count at home, he’s now logged more complete games as a Pirate (four) than walks.

In parts of seven seasons in the Bronx, Nova walked 2.9 hitters per nine frames. That’s by no means a poor number, but he’s certainly locked things down since switching teams.

Nova’s stranglehold on free passes is clearly something in which he takes pride. Per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, when asked after Monday’s game about his walk-free 2017, he simply replied, “Because I’m not afraid to throw strikes.” Music to a pitching coach’s ear, and a far cry from the hurler who seemed to lose focus at times in New York.

Although Nova has never been a strikeout artist (career 6.7 K/9), he’s only fanned eight opponents in 20 innings this year for a 3.6 K/9. While that rate might seem troubling under most circumstances, it’s hard to argue with Nova’s results. Pitching to contact is clearly working for him and allowing him to cut through lineups with ease. Case in point, the way he was able to go the distance last night while averaging fewer than 10 pitches per frame.

The Pirates gave Nova a vote of confidence over the winter, signing him to a three-year, $26 million deal. The market never quite heated up the way the righty expected, as most clubs were likely wary that his post-trade performance could be a two-month mirage. But he’s picked up right where he left off, and if he keeps up his newfound habits, Pittsburgh has itself an absolute bargain.

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