Ivan Nova Shows a Bit of Regression, But Pirates Still Take the Win Against the Brewers

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.

HAPPY RETURNS

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.”

  • The Pirates are only 2.5 games behind the Cubs. That is the number that probably matters most, not the 5 games behind the Brewers.

  • nova should throw less strikes to lefties, maybe come inside and up in the strike zone.

  • Nova’s been putting a lot runners on base lately with a WHIP of over 1.4 for he last 5 starts. Couple that with the increased homers and the the potential is there for some horrific results. For the most part, he’s been able to pull the irons out of the fire…but, sooner or later, this is going to catch up with him.

    • I think the league is adjusting to him and he needs to make some adjustments in response. Let’s hope he can figure it out soon because he has really looked hittable lately.

      • I don’t think I’ve ever said this about a pitcher before but I think the biggest adjustment he needs to make is to throw more balls. Teams know hes going to pound the strike zone so now they’re swinging the bats more and putting the ball in play.

        • Ugh, this is the Catch-22, right?

          Pounding the zone is what enabled his minuscule walk rate to offset one of the worst strikeout rates of any starter in baseball and regularly extend outings past six and even seven innings.

          Conversely, his Yankee-style approach never really resulted in anything better than what his regressed Pirate approach looks like.

          Whether or not there’s a middle ground is yet to be seen.

          • Darkstone42
            July 19, 2017 1:47 pm

            The best version of him is the strike-thrower. Yeah, he’ll get hit sometimes, and no, he’s not as good as the guy we got in much of the first half, but the strike-thrower is going to give us 6+ innings and a chance to win, even if he doesn’t always shut the other team down. He’s our #3, we don’t need shutouts and domination; we need rest for the bullpen and a chance to win the game.

            • This is where I stand as well.

              Probably a #4 on a good staff, but a serviceable #3 with enough innings.

  • The height of Nova’s success was almost certainly a matter of league and home ballpark, as evidenced by his 3.29 FIP at home vs. 4.76 FIP away. The culprit of this discrepancy? Home runs allowed. His stingy 7.7% HR/FB rate in the friendly confines of PNC balloons to 18.8% on the road. This is still largely the same pitcher that was in New York.

    The good news is that this *isn’t* New York, he *will* continue to benefit from his home games being played at PNC, and a ~4ish FIP starter that can throw 180+ innings a year is still a good mid-rotation starter.

  • terrygordon30
    July 19, 2017 2:18 am

    At the beginning of the year, it was considered to be a win for the Pirates if Nova ended up with an ERA at 3.80 or below. I know that there are more factors involved in ERA, but I believe that the Pirates are pleased. I hope that this regression is not indicative of future results. One thing is for sure, and that is Nova keeps his team in the game.

    • !0-6, 3.27 ERA and a 1.6 WAR worth about $13 mil in Value, Nova has been the leader and the most reliable of this Rotation in 2017.

      The Pirates are playing better in July, 9-5, but the Brewers are also 9-5, the Cubs are 8-5, and the Cardinals are 8-6. It is taking this surge just to keep up with the teams who were ahead of us in the NL Central.

    • That’s all you can ask for today from a majority of starting pitchers.

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