Ivan Nova Shows Both Promise and Problems in His Pirates Debut

PITTSBURGH – Ivan Nova had both his strengths and his flaws on display tonight, throwing seven effective innings while earning his first win in his Pirates debut, a 5-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds tonight at PNC Park.

Nova worked consistently in the zone, throwing 56 of his 76 pitches for strikes, and getting ground balls on 9 of his 19 balls in play (47%). He gave up six hits with no walks, and retired 11 batters in a row between the second and sixth innings.

“Pitch efficiency was at the top of the list; downhill angle, no walks, good rhythm and pace,“ Clint Hurdle said regarding Nova’s effectiveness tonight. “I thought the [pitch] mix was really consistent and good.”

Nova worked primarily with his two-seam fastball (33 pitches) and curveball (23), generating five swinging strikes with each. He also worked in his four-seam fastball (14) and changeup (5), and threw one slider.

“That’s just a real quality two-seam fastball,” said Hurdle. “[It] looks like a fastball coming in, middle third, maybe thigh-high, and just shoots down-and-in [to right-handed batters].”

The two-seam has been Nova’s most used (52.3%) and most effective pitch this season, and given the Pirates’ emphasis on two-seam fastballs, it would be reasonable to expect that usage rate to continue.

Despite the positive signs this evening, Nova continues to be plagued by the long ball, allowing two solo home runs to Brandon Phillips in the second and seventh innings.

“I fell behind in the count and tried to go inside,” Nova said of Phillips’ first home run, which was hit off a 91 MPH two-seam fastball. “It stayed up and he was waiting for it.”

A similar experience played out in the seventh, when Phillips turned around what appeared to be a flat 87 MPH changeup for his second home run. The pitch appeared to be thrown to essentially the same spot as the one Phillips had previously hit into the left field seats.

Two of Nova’s other fly balls were hit to some of the deeper parts of PNC Park, and may have gone for home runs at more hitter-friendly locales, such as Yankee Stadium, where Nova previously had quite a bit of home run trouble.

The 40% HR/FB rate this evening is certainly a concern, and the difference tonight between Nova’s FIP (5.41) and xFIP (2.89) demonstrates how severe the consequences can be for pitchers with extreme home run rates.

This scenario is not unlike that of another right-handed, two-seam throwing former Yankee of recent Pirates history, A.J. Burnett. Burnett saw his ground ball rate go up (49.2% to 56.9%) and his home run rate go down (17.1% to 12.7%) in his first year with the Pirates, and maintained that improvement the following year (56.5% GB; 9.1% HR/FB).

OFFENSE DOES ENOUGH; KANG SHINES AS REPLACEMENT

Pirates hitters reached base in 13 of their first 27 plate appearances, scoring their five runs by the end of the fourth inning. Cincinnati helped the cause by issuing two hit batsmen, one wild pitch, and a throwing error by 3B Eugenio Suarez that allowed Josh Harrison to move from first to second on an infield single.

Consistent with their recent offensive struggles, the Pirates went cold over the final four innings, striking out five times, and not putting a single hitter on base after the fourth inning.

After Phillips’ home run in the seventh made the score 5-3, the Reds threatened again in the eight against Neftali Feliz. A leadoff walk followed by a single had runners at first and second, but replacement 3B Jung-ho Kang snared a Billy Hamilton ground ball down the line to start a 5-4 double play that effectively neutralized the Reds’ momentum.

Tony Watson came on in the ninth to notch his second save of the season, handling the Reds’ 3-4-5 hitters in order, and finishing the game by striking out Phillips on three pitches.

OTHER NOTES

  • David Freese was removed from the game after the sixth inning with left elbow discomfort after being hit by a pitch on his left arm in the third.
  • Adam Frazier struck out against Jumbo Diaz in his only plate appearance after entering the game as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning.
  • Ivan Nova’s start makes him the 12th starting pitcher and 48th player the Pirates have used this season. The franchise record for starting pitchers is 18 in 1996, and the 2011 team set the franchise record with 52 different players making at least one appearance.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    August 7, 2016 10:13 am

    Get used to this kind of up and down performance by Nova – he’s been that for 3-5 years in New York….that is why they finally got rid of him. 91 MPH fastball?

    • 91 MPH 2-seam fastball, which is about average.

      • I saw a number of those 2-seamers at 93-94, with nasty late movement tailing in and down hard to righthanders. I was shocked at the sheer stuff some of those pitches displayed.

    • Nova’s average velocity on his two-seam is 92.6 mph for his career, 92.4 mph this year. That’s normal pace for a two-seam.

  • BallHeadWonder
    August 7, 2016 9:48 am

    Great job by Nova to hand the ball off to Cole today!! If he can be consistent like that to finish up, I like the fact that we can have 3 pitchers we can go to when their turn comes up!!

    I commend and like Vogelsong for his last start, but I really feel that will not last. Hopefully Clint and Neal will go with the youth movement and let Khul and Brault roll with the last 2 spots and hunker down and make a run!! With us 1 back in the loss column, 4 back from Home Field, plus a “Walk the Plank” “Do or Die” stretch with 18 of the next 25 against Winning teams and oh the other 7??? Against Milwaukee!!!! After San Diego next week, I would love to have the rotation set going into that stretch!!

    You might wonder where’s Glasnow?? On my bench!!! This kid ain’t ready!! He might be ready next year!! But he is Crystal Clearly not ready THIS year!! He doesn’t have that DOGG in him yet!! Tim has been writing about it for the past few years how it takes him 5-6 starts at each level to get the nerves out and then he is fine!! We don’t have that kind of time THIS season to wait out his nerves!! And the race we are in, I feel his nerves can’t take it yet!! So that is why he is not in my mix!! Brault and Khul have shown they can AT LEAST keep us in the game to give us a shot to win!!

    • We speaka-the-same-language Sir. Right there with you on everything.

    • I have better expectations for Vogelsong. I say he puts up a record above .500 down the stretch.

  • OT but something that just popped into my head as the Padres are coming into town is Alex Dickerson is killing it. Gives me pause me with NH’s and co’s ability to evaluate/project guys who are more fringey. Dickerson wasn’t in top 30 prospects, probably won’t develop power etc, etc , etc. He certainly is off to a great start after killing Triple A ball at a somewhat advanced age. Hindsight is 20/20 but that is another trade looking real dumb to dump him for Decker and Mikolas who they swapped for Mcguiness.

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      August 7, 2016 10:11 am

      That was another of NH’s bone-headed trades – I remember criticizing it the day it was made, and so many on this site defending it, contending Decker was a promising outfielder, blah, blah, blah. I hope the Pirates win, but I hope Dickerson tees off on them in a losing effort….the knock On Dickerson is that he didn’t hit for enough power or field well enough – yet, we have Jaso at first base….

    • That trade makes me a little nervous for sure.

  • 7 innings that’s all I need to see. Reds aren’t slouches. Nice work

  • The way Nova pitched he could be considered as one of the better FA SP options this very weak year for FA’s.

  • Nova had a good first start as a Pirate. His pitch count was very low compared to other Bucs. Other than Phillips, he was very effective. HRs have been a problem for him, but should go down a little. All in all, I thought it was encouraging start.

  • We are going to break that player record, I suspect. Have to figure at least give players who haven’t yet made an appearance could get called up. Osuna, Hanson, Hutchison, maybe Duncan or Williams, maybe Gift. I’m probably forgetting someone, too, but there are several options.

    • I could see all those guys coming up…September 1st.

      FWIW: 25 pitchers so far. 21 for all of last season. Before you think: “Well, Kratz pitched an inning, so it’s really 24″…Jaff tossed an inning in ’15, so it was really 20 🙂

    • It might be harder than you think because we are up against the 40-man limit. Hanson has already been up and is part of the 48 Ed mentioned. Duncan and Williams probably don’t get called up because they aren’t on the 40-man. While Osuna could be added, it might be at the expense of Willy Garcia. So that would leave only two new call ups – Gift Ngoepe and Garcia/Osuna. Anything beyond that is probably injury related

      • Good points. And I think Clint doesn’t like the idea of having a massive bench during September so we may not see that many extra guys up. I bet gift, hanson, maybe a few pitchers but not many guys who have already been up.

    • Personally I leave Hanson at Indi rest of the season. The guy is actually/finally learning how to take a walk, which would make him a nice prospect again. He needs a few more months doing it at AAA though before it will really set in. I ain’t touching him outside of big injuries otherwise, because if this kid could take BB’s, he could be a really great player.

      • Isn’t Indy’s season over on Labor Day? If so, I think he’d be recalled.

        • I hope not. That kid is feeling a lot of pressure to make the Bigs. Don’t want to see it happen till he gets himself fully straightened out.

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