PITTSBURGH — Ivan Nova had an extremely good first half to his 2017 season. He had a bit of a rougher start to the second half, although the Pirates’ offense bailed him out in a 4-3 win.
In 18 starts before the All-Star break, he had a 3.36 RA9, on pace for the second-best figure of his career. He had already amassed 3.3 WAR. His career high for a total season is 3.6. But his FIP doesn’t present as rosy of a picture, coming in a 4.11 compared to his 3.21 ERA, with the -0.91 difference the fifth largest amongst National League starters.
In short, Nova was due for a bit of regression, and some of that came on one swing on Tuesday, when Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw hit a three-run home run in the third inning. It wasn’t just the home run that plagued Nova’s outing. He gave up 10 hits over six innings and never seemed totally comfortable up on the mound.
Nova said that a lot of the time, he was throwing good pitches, it was just that a lot of balls were finding holes.
“They were getting base hits — a lot of them,” Nova said. “I made good pitches a lot of those times, but they found a hole.”
The home run ball to Shaw, though, that was something else.
“I think it’s mis-executed pitches,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I think he’ll be the first one to tell you, it was a sinker to Shaw. The Shaw thing is kind of crazy the way that thing has worked out. It might just be four wide the next time Nova sees him. We’ll talk about it. I know Nova won’t want to do that. But I think it’s just mis-execution of some pitches.”
The home run rate has been a growing problem for Nova as the season progresses. In April and May, he allowed just five home runs in 77 innings (0.58 HR/9). Since then, he’s allowed 11 homers in 49.2 innings (1.99 HR/9),
That’s a change that both he and Hurdle have noticed. They both think it has something to do with the way hitters have changed their approach against him.
”He’s had success for a period of time now where they’re dropping anchor and they’re hunting him,” Hurdle said. “I think a lot of them are looking for sinkers. That’s his go-to. They fouled some balls. Some ground balls found some holes.”
Nova echoed those comments about become less predictable, particularly when he’s ahead the count.
“I think they really know that I’m throwing strikes. They’re being aggressive. … Ground balls were getting through. It was a base hit if they were hitting it. It’s part of this game. You’re going to have days like this. But the most important thing is that you keep fighting and give your team a chance so they can bounce back like today.”
As far as a plan of attack to combat the issue, Hurdle and Nova both say that it’s not about reinventing the wheel, just tweaking up some things.
“I guess it’s time that we talked about punching back and doing some things — not any different than what he’s done — maybe doing it earlier and giving us some different sequences,” Hurdle said.
Starling Marte had a successful night, going 1 for 3 with a walk, a stolen base, and a run at the plate, while also make a nice sliding catch in left field.
It was a nice night back for the Pirates starting left fielder and he was given a mostly warm welcome by the home crowd.
“Today’s a new era, a new journey,” Marte said. “It feels great. I felt good and I’m just excited to continue battling out there and helping get victories for our team.”
Marte’s return comes at a big moment for the Pirates, who now sit five games behind the Brewers with two games left in the teams’ series. Marte is more than aware of the big situation he’s walking into.
“It feels great and I feel great, especially the energy that I was bringing and facing the team that’s in first place in our division,” Marte said. “That feels good to go against these guys. Hopefully, we’ll be able to sweep these guys and continue with that momentum.”
HARRISON POWER SURGE
Josh Harrison seems to have found a much better place with his swing as he sent a two-run laser beam over the Clemente Wall to tie the game at 3-3.
It’s been a rough month for Harrison and he said it felt extra good to get that one.
”It tells me a lot because I got that pitch a lot here recently that I’ve fouled off and I didn’t know how I fouled it off,” he said. “Once I was able to identify my timing and making sure that I was on time, it was nice to be able to take it into the game today.”