Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nova a true pro and a leader

- Ron Cook: rcook@postgazett­e.com and Twitter @RonCookPG. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

club in baseball. It couldn’t have happened at a better time for the Pirates. They will continue to struggle to score runs without suspended Starling Marte and DUI-sidelined Jung Ho Kang. They are going to need good pitching most games to win.

“I played with a lot of profession­als. You ask me, he’s a pro in this clubhouse,” David Freese said of Nova early in the season.

“Here, he’s a leader, man,” Francisco Cervelli said over the weekend. “He’s the veteran of this staff.”

Nova showed why he’s a profession­al and a leader with his latest performanc­e.

“I do see that. He’s been all that and more,” Clint Hurdle said.

Baseball people will tell you the best pitch in any game isn’t necessaril­y a fastball or breaking ball or slider. It’s strike one. Nova throws ’em with amazing consistenc­y, 18 times Sunday against the 25 hitters he faced. He went to three balls just twice, including the unlikely walk to Montgomery. He recorded nine outs on three pitches or fewer.

“That’s the key,” Nova said. “That’s what they teach you. Attack the hitter.”

Nova has been the best part of the best part of this Pirates team. The bullpen has blown up at times and nearly did Sunday when Daniel Hudson and Tony Watson struggled to get through the final two innings. The offense was inconsiste­nt even before Tuesday when Marte was suspended. The defense has been lousy; a ninth-inning error Sunday by Josh Harrison, playing second base, could have doomed the team. But the young starting pitchers have been surprising­ly good with the exception of Tyler Glasnow.

“Tyler is going through some growing pains at the major league level,” Neal Huntington said Sunday before the game. “At times, we’ve been ultraconse­rvative with most of our players’ developmen­t. But there are times when it’s the best time for a player or pitcher to go through developmen­t at the major league level. We’re going through that a bit with Tyler. It might be a little bit bumpy.”

That hasn’t lessened Huntington’s enthusiasm about his starters.

“We’ve loved this group. We’ve loved the potential of this group and that’s why we went with it. Jameson [Taillon] is mature and advanced beyond his years. Chad Kuhl, we love the stuff and the competitiv­eness. Gerrit [Cole] looks like he’s Gerrit again, which is fantastic. And Nova continues to attack the strike zone with quality pitches.”

Huntington never imagined having Nova this season. When he traded for him, he looked at him as a rental player because Nova was going to be a free agent after the season. He probably still can’t believe he has him. Nova agreed to come back with a three-year, $26 million contract, a bargain these days for big-league starting pitchers.

“He told everybody who asked, he liked it here,” Hurdle said. “He’s got a good vibe with the guys. He got a good vibe in the clubhouse. He liked leading those young guys and giving them some direction at times when they ask questions.”

Clearly, Nova benefited from coming to Pittsburgh and escaping the high-pressure world of the Yankees. You know what they say about a change of scenery being a blessing at times. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Sunday he has no regrets about trading Nova because, in essence, Nova is a different pitcher here. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage deserves credit for helping Nova become better. Sometimes, a different voice can mean all the difference in the world.

“Everybody here treats me really well,” Nova said. “Those guys gave me the confidence to go out there and perform the way I could. I’m trying not to let them down.” Everybody? So who exactly is everybody?

“Everybody,” Nova said, firmly. “Coaching staff, players, video guys, kitchen, everybody … “I feel really good.” Not even that surreal walk to Montgomery could get Nova down on this fine afternoon.

“It’s not what you want especially after you get the other two guys out and the pitcher is coming up to hit,” he said. “You’ve got to try to finish that inning. I don’t feel bad that it was the pitcher. You’ve got to finish that inning.”

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

That was a true profession­al talking.

 ?? Matt Freed/Post-Gazette ?? Ivan Nova was impressive against his former team on Sunday, limiting the Yankees to one run in seven innings.
Matt Freed/Post-Gazette Ivan Nova was impressive against his former team on Sunday, limiting the Yankees to one run in seven innings.

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