Nova speeds to complete game
Since joining the Pirates, Ivan Nova has been a model of pitch efficiency and command. Entering tonight's game, he averaged 3.19 pitches per plate appearance with the Pirates, 0.64 below league average. His walk rate was a paltry 1.4 percent, a full 6.5 percent less than league average. After Thursday night's performance, both numbers are going to dip even further.
In his second complete game since joining the Pirates, Nova threw only 94 pitches to 32 batters and didn't yield a walk. He allowed one run, six hits and struck out four. The right-hander is quickly entering J.A. Happ territory, as his WHIP is below 1.00 and his ERA now stands at 2.58, since being traded from the Yankees.
"Pretty much more of the same and it's pretty good," Clint Hurdle said. "That's the manual right there. That's how you want to get it done in a quick efficient way."
Not only is Nova throwing strikes, but he is throwing them quickly. According Fangraphs' "pace" metric, the right-hander is averaging only 20.5 seconds between pitches. That is a full 2.5 quicker than his career average and 2.7 seconds under league average. Tonight was another lightening quick performance, as he ripped through nine innings with almost no wasted time between pitches. This one was finished in only two hours and 26 minutes.
It's a baseball maxim that quick mound work makes for more alert defenders and better defense. While it's not clear whether there is really a relationship between the two, for at least one night it seemed like the former influenced the latter.
Gregory Polanco made a long running catch in foul territory in the first inning. The infield converted two double plays, with the one in the sixth undermining the Reds only threatening inning. Andrew McCutchen made a nice running grab on a ball over his head. Jung Ho Kang chipped in with two fine plays and Jordy Mercer made an excellent backhand pick in the eighth.
"[Defense and quick pace] go hand and hand," Hurdle said. "People are engaged. They are ready to play, they want to play. They want to make plays."
Nova joked that he quickens his pace for his family.
"I'm thinking of my family and my wife, everybody likes it fast," Nova said. "So, I try to make it quick as possible."
Offense chips in too
The Pirates put together one of their finer games of the season Thursday night. Nova sparkled, the defense was superb and the offense jammed the bases full of baserunners all night long.
The Pirates collected 11 hits and five walks (two intentional). Jung Ho Kang continues to spark the offense, as he drove in two runs with a first inning double. Josh Harrison added two doubles and scored a run. Francisco Cervelli got on base in three times in four plate appearances.
"The way that I've been pitching, I feel like three runs is enough," Nova said. "They gave me three in the first and I was good for the start."