CHICAGO -- This time a year ago, Ivan Nova was running on fumes. He pitched most of last season through a knee injury that compromised his ability to work out and throw between starts. From that, and his subsequent second-half slide, he drew motivation."You've got to be better," Nova said.
CHICAGO -- This time a year ago, Ivan Nova was running on fumes. He pitched most of last season through a knee injury that compromised his ability to work out and throw between starts. From that, and his subsequent second-half slide, he drew motivation.
"You've got to be better," Nova said. "I felt that I needed to prove myself and prove to some people that I still could do it."
Nova's season ended in disappointing fashion on Wednesday night as he pitched only four innings, but the Pirates didn't let him leave Wrigley Field as the losing pitcher. Pittsburgh overcame a five-run deficit and Starling Marte's two-run double off first baseman Anthony Rizzo's glove forced extra innings, but Albert Almora Jr. smacked a single to left field to finish the postseason-bound Cubs' 7-6 walk-off win.
Nova did not have his A-game against the Cubs, manager Clint Hurdle said, but he will head into the offseason feeling better about how he finished than he did last year.
"I think there was more up than down this time through," Nova said. "Not the best way to finish the season. You want to get at least a 'W' your last game, but overall, been a good year."
For one, Nova is in better physical condition. After dropping 10 pounds last offseason, he was able to maintain his between-starts routine throughout the year. Nova threw his scheduled bullpen sessions, lifted more and ran like never before.
"When you're strong, you're doing almost the same thing as the beginning of the year," Nova said. "If you don't feel strong enough, a lot of pitchers start dropping their arm or losing their stuff. That hasn't been the case for me."
Nova's overall statistics don't exactly jump off the page. He posted a 4.19 ERA with a 1.29 WHIP in 161 innings over 29 starts. But those numbers require closer inspection and further context.
In his last April start, Nova sprained his right ring finger while fielding a ground ball. The injury affected his ability to grip the baseball, impairing his command and the movement on his offspeed pitches. He tried to pitch through it and put up a 7.61 ERA over five starts.
The Pirates lost four of Nova's starts that month before he went on the disabled list. Hurdle called it a "valuable lesson that most players have to learn the hard way." Nova offered a more blunt assessment.
"I had a tough month because I was stupid," Nova said on Tuesday. "That was kind of stupid."
Take away that month, and Nova put together a more palatable 3.60 ERA in 24 starts. It's not top-of-the-rotation production, but it's good enough in a rotation that will also return Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove next year. Nova isn't looking to settle for "good enough," however.
He showed that this season by adjusting his repertoire and learning from his younger teammates. After finding success with the Bucs by pounding the bottom of the zone with sinkers, Nova incorporated more high four-seam fastballs this season and he rediscovered his offspeed stuff after his return from the disabled list.
"I did what I wanted to do on a lot of occasions," Nova said.
Nova said he intends to repeat the training regimen that got him in shape for this season. He might even intensify his workouts since he won't have to recuperate from any lingering injuries. It could be a winter full of early wake-up calls and 7 a.m. workouts for the veteran right-hander, but he believes the work will pay off again next season.
"I'm going to have time after seven, eight more years, when I retire," Nova said, smiling. "I've got to take care of my business now."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Power behind the plate:Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz have been perhaps the Majors' most productive catching tandem this season, offensively, and they showed it again on Wednesday night.
"Our guys have done a nice job separating the ball then, obviously, taking advantage of some things on the offensive side of the ball," Hurdle said.
Diaz pulled the Pirates within two in the eighth by ripping a two-run single to right off reliever Steve Cishek. In the ninth, Cervelli belted a pinch-hit double high off the wall in right-center field, putting two runners in scoring position before Marte's game-tying double with two outs and two strikes.
Jose Osuna put the Pirates on the board in the first with a solo homer off left-hander Jose Quintana, his first homer in the Majors since May 11. Eight of Osuna's 11 career hits against the Cubs have gone for extra bases.
"I think this time, we're seeing some fresher swings," Hurdle said. "We're seeing some more significant contact, so that's helping. That ball today was hammered."
HE SAID IT
"The offseason starts today for me. Just going to take a little time to refresh my mind and think about what I did, then go back to work." -- Nova
Williams (14-9, 3.04 ERA) will start the finale of this four-game series for the Bucs at 8:05 p.m. ET on Thursday at Wrigley Field. The right-hander owns a 1.08 ERA in the second half and a 1.00 ERA over his past 12 starts. Left-hander Jonathan Lester (17-6, 3.43 ERA) will start for the Cubs.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.