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Nova escapes jams to bookend 2018 debut

Right-hander responds well to mound visits to limit damage
MLB.com @adamdberry

DETROIT -- Making his first career Opening Day start, Ivan Nova allowed two runs on six hits in five innings of Friday's eventual 13-10, 13-inning win over the Tigers at Comerica Park. It could have been worse.

Nova put himself in a few tight spots on Friday, but with one exception, the veteran right-hander worked his way out of them. He walked three and struck out four, struggled to find his command early on and escaped two bases-loaded, no-out jams that bookended his 84-pitch outing.

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DETROIT -- Making his first career Opening Day start, Ivan Nova allowed two runs on six hits in five innings of Friday's eventual 13-10, 13-inning win over the Tigers at Comerica Park. It could have been worse.

Nova put himself in a few tight spots on Friday, but with one exception, the veteran right-hander worked his way out of them. He walked three and struck out four, struggled to find his command early on and escaped two bases-loaded, no-out jams that bookended his 84-pitch outing.

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"The game was pushing him a little bit in the first two innings, and he pushed back to get us through five," manager Clint Hurdle said. "To get out of two bases-loaded, no-out jams, you don't see that very often."

Nova walked two of the first three hitters he faced and gave up an infield single between them. Catcher Francisco Cervelli then walked out to the mound, using the first of Pittsburgh's six allotted visits. Cervelli understood that Nova, from the Dominican Republic, might be having difficulty gripping the ball in the 39-degree chill at first pitch. It showed, as only half of Nova's first 42 pitches were strikes.

Nova responded by striking out Nicholas Castellanos, getting Victor Martinez to line out and whiffing James McCann.

"You try to stay tough mentally. You don't want to get guys on base, bases loaded. No, I want to get people out," Nova said. "Everyone out there, I want to get them out. … Bases loaded, OK, fine, I've got to keep making pitches. No panic there."

The bottom of Detroit's order strung together three straight doubles to left field to lead off the second, putting the Tigers ahead by two runs. This time, pitching coach Ray Searage joined Nova and Cervelli on the mound. And again, Nova recovered. Leonys Martin flied out. Jeimer Candelario popped out. Miguel Cabrera went down looking at a called third strike.

Overall, Nova improved when he began mixing in more curveballs instead of relying only on sinkers and four-seam fastballs. In that second-inning sequence, Nova started throwing more changeups and got Cabrera to swing and miss at one of them.

"We have to figure out something and start again," Cervelli said. "When he started mixing offspeed and everything, he started getting more aggressive with the fastball."

After two long innings, Nova bounced back with an eight-pitch third and a 10-pitch fourth. The Tigers loaded the bases again in the fifth on a walk and two singles, but after another well-timed mound visit by Searage, Nova got Martinez to fly out. McCann then bounced into a 4-6-3 double play, Nova's final outs of the game and the first he recorded on the ground.

Nova then retreated to the visitors' clubhouse at Comerica Park, where he eventually sat alongside setup man George Kontos as they watched Gregory Polanco crush the game-winning, three-run homer in the 13th inning.

Video: PIT@DET: Polanco cranks go-ahead three-run HR in 13th

"It's the first one," Nova said afterward. "It always feels good to get the first one done. Work hard for the next one."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Ivan Nova