PHILADELPHIA — Ivan Nova will take the hill for the Pirates as they attempt to even their four-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night.
If the Pirates have an ace in their five-man rotation, it’s probably 26-year-old Jameson Taillon, who has a 2.86 ERA, 21 strikeouts and one complete-game shutout in his four starts this season.
But while Taillon may be the best pitcher, there’s no question that 31-year-old Nova has been the leader and steadying force of the group. It’s a pretty big change for a player that spent most of his time in New York barely holding on to (and sometimes failing to hold on to) a spot in the Yankees’ rotation.
“When we brought Nova over, he’d been a guy, that until last year, hadn’t started over 30 times,” manger Clint Hurdle said. “He’d never stayed in a rotation one full year in the big leagues.”
In 2017, Nova solidified his presence, going the distance in the starting rotation and throwing a career-high 187.0 innings. That jived with the Pirates message to him when he arrived:
“Put your foot down, get your thing right, if we get to a point where your thing is going pretty, could you give a look in the back yard over here to your right shoulder or your left shoulder and see what we’ve got?” Hurdle recalled.
Even before his start on Friday, Nova could be seen chatting up new relief pitcher Enny Romero in the clubhouse. He’s been a helpful presence for many of the Pirates pitchers, from pitching techniques to the process of adjusting to the major league lifestyle.
“This winter, it took on a more heightened awareness of it,” Hurdle said. “His want-to, at this point in time in his career and his evolution, I think it’s helped him. He’s not all wrapped up in survival mode now, like he was in New York. … That part of him has freed him up.”
You heard in this space last week Josh Harrison’s reaction to losing six weeks of his season after having his hand broken by a wayward fastball. Matt Gajtka took a look at the other side of the coin by talking to some Pirates pitchers about the matter.
Hurdle’s phone went off during our (not televised) pregame media session. If you were dying to know, his current ringtone is “Magic Man” by Heart.
“My ringtone will never embarrass me,” he said, laughing. “It’ll always be 60s and 70s rock.”
Gm 20: ☠ (12-7) at 🔔 (11-7)
Ivan Nova (4.88 ERA) vs. Ben Lively (5.87)
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) April 20, 2018
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) April 20, 2018
ON THE DIAL
With the Penguins playing on AT&T SportsNet, tonight’s game will be broadcast on MLB Network’s secondary feed. That’s channel 213-1 on DirecTV channel 478, and also on MLB Network’s feed on Youtube TV and PlayStation Vue.
It’s starting to feel like baseball. The sun is out, the Pirates are having batting practice outdoors, and the early-season weather malaise seems like it might have broken, at least for the rest of the weekend. Game-time temperature is forecast for 50 degrees, with the sun still shining. The wind chill will get into the low-40s by the end of the game. Winds are at 11 MPH, blowing across the outfield from left field to right, which could make the 330-foot trip down the foul line even shorter for the Pirates’ left-handers.
I’m on the road in Philly as just one of three traveling members of the press corps and I’ve probably already annoyed Lance Lysowski and Liz Bloom, so fire away with questions about the Pirates, Philly, life on the road, the human existence, or just want to talk about the game, I’ll be hanging out in the comments below.
If your interests tilt toward the prospects side of things, Tim Williams may have already answered your question in his Friday Q&A.