MIAMI – From August 14th, 2013 to July 27th, 2016, the Pittsburgh Pirates combined for five complete games. The pitchers involved in those complete games were Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, Vance Worley, Jeff Locke, and Gerrit Cole.
From August 23rd, 2016 through tonight, the Pittsburgh Pirates combined for five complete games. The pitchers involved in those complete games were Ivan Nova, Ivan Nova, Ivan Nova, Ivan Nova, and Ivan Nova.
Granted, one of those complete games was a rain shortened outing against the Cubs that lasted 5.1 innings. Another was an eight inning complete game. But to have three other complete games in three months of pitching with the Pirates can only be described in one way.
“It’s pretty special,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said about Nova’s track record.
Tonight, Nova took it to a new level, throwing a Maddux. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, and perhaps that is because the last Pirates Maddux came on July 15, 2011, a “Maddux” is when a pitcher throws a complete game shutout on less than 100 pitches. Nova needed only 95 for a complete game shutout in a 4-0 win over the Marlins. He has easily been the best pitcher for the Pirates this year, but tonight he was taking things to a new level.
“He has a four pitch mix, but first of all the two seamer is just playing big,” Hurdle said on what was working for Nova. “He’s throwing that two-seamer back over the plate to right-handers. He’s getting ground balls. He uses the four-seamer sometimes in enough to stand people up, and then the combination of the changeup and curveball — he gets the curveball rolling, it’s got a finish like a bowling ball. Again, no walks. Seven punch outs. First pitch strikes gets him on the mark quick. He’s been a pro.”
Hurdle noted that Nova got 13 guys out on three pitches or less, and only had three at-bats where he got to a three ball count.
“It’s a perfect recipe for somebody to go up there and pitch really, really well,” Hurdle said.
Nova felt that all of his stuff was working tonight, but that the curveballs and changeups he threw were working especially well.
“The changeup was outstanding today,” Nova said. “Two-seamer worked really well. But I really was on top of my changeup and the curveball. It was two good pitches.”
There were very few times when he ran into a jam or needed help from his defense. But when he needed it, he got that help, with two highlights from Josh Harrison. The first was a diving play on a bunt popped down the third base line, with Harrison getting under it with a dive to make the catch. The second big play saw Harrison dive to his left to start a 5-4-3 double play, completed with a good turn by Gift Ngoepe.
“Unbelievable,” Nova said. “That was amazing. It’s why I got to be a number one today. And the bunt play, where he dove for the ball, that’s the type of players we have on this team.”
Tonight’s Maddux just continues an amazing run of pitching that started when Nova joined the Pirates last August. He has stepped up to be one of the best starters on the staff, and with Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole pitching well, the Pirates have a solid front three for their rotation.
Offense Without Swinging the Bat
The Pirates got on the board in the second inning when Jordy Mercer hit a two-out single to score Gregory Polanco from second. But it was their two run inning in the sixth that was so huge, especially considering how it went down.
Dan Straily only issued three walks on the night, but all of them came in that sixth inning. After giving up a single to Josh Bell, Straily walked the next three batters, including Francisco Cervelli with the bases loaded to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead. Straily started out with an 0-2 count, then followed up with four straight balls to walk in the run and finish his night. It was the second straight at-bat where Straily started out 0-2, then walked a batter, after doing the same thing to Gregory Polanco right before Cervelli.
“I slowed things down and I was looking for one pitch and he didn’t throw it,” Cervelli said. “Thank god I didn’t swing.”
“Those two at-bats were as big as anything we did all night,” Hurdle said. “0-2 counts right out of the chute, and they both work six pitch walks to get in two runs.”
Brad Ziegler came on in relief to face John Jaso, and issued another walk, this time after starting 1-2 in the count. That put the Pirates up 3-0. Jaso later added a fourth run with a solo home run in the ninth inning, his first of the year.
**Nova’s shutout was the first shutout by a Pirates starter since Jeff Locke on May 30th, 2016. That also came in Miami.
**Hurdle got Felipe Rivero up in the eighth inning after a single allowed by Nova, “just because it can happen in a hurry”, according to Hurdle. But Nova had a long leash.
“We were going to give him rope to pitch the game,” Hurdle said. “We had a pitch count for him that he never got to, he didn’t get near.”
**Hurdle praised Josh Harrison’s defense at third base, noting that this wasn’t new: “He’s a good defender. We’ve seen him good before. I’ve always liked him at third. Second was a good position for him, but he caught everybody’s attention in that super U position.”
**Francisco Cervelli was limping around on a few plays, including a ground out to second base, but said after the game that it wasn’t bad enough to leave the game. “If I’m not bleeding, I’m not going out,” Cervelli said. “You’ve got to keep playing.”
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.