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Despite hiccup, Nova boasts formidable resume

MLB.com

CINCINNATI -- The similarities between last year's J.A. Happ and this year's Ivan Nova can be found in manager Clint Hurdle's mailbox. After the Pirates acquired Happ last July, and again after the Bucs got Nova on Aug. 1, the range of responses typically came back to one question: "Really?"

The tone of the messages quickly turned from doubtful to demanding with Happ, and again with Nova: "You better sign him." The Pirates weren't able to retain Happ, but they hope to re-sign Nova, who had been sensational in the second half before a three-inning clunker in a 7-4 loss to the Reds on Sunday.

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CINCINNATI -- The similarities between last year's J.A. Happ and this year's Ivan Nova can be found in manager Clint Hurdle's mailbox. After the Pirates acquired Happ last July, and again after the Bucs got Nova on Aug. 1, the range of responses typically came back to one question: "Really?"

The tone of the messages quickly turned from doubtful to demanding with Happ, and again with Nova: "You better sign him." The Pirates weren't able to retain Happ, but they hope to re-sign Nova, who had been sensational in the second half before a three-inning clunker in a 7-4 loss to the Reds on Sunday.

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Nova will be a free agent at the end of the season. The Pirates will have room for a veteran starter in their rotation in 2017. Like Happ last year, Nova seems like a fit -- and the comparisons have been impossible for general manager Neal Huntington to escape.

"If it were up to us, he'd be back here. I'm sure if it were up to him, he'd have a massive contract," Huntington said. "Now, we've got to find somewhere in the middle ground, and does it make sense? We've got to find financial middle ground."

Nova struggled to find himself on the mound in his ninth start with the Pirates. His sinker and changeup were up in the zone, and his curveball lacked its usual bite. Nova felt great in the bullpen while warming up before the game, but it didn't carry over into his nine-hit, five-run outing.

"I'm human," Nova said. "It's just one of those days where you feel like you have it, but you don't."

More often than not, Nova has had it with the Pirates. He owns a 2.76 ERA with 45 strikeouts and three walks in 55 1/3 innings with the Pirates. That's why Nova has transformed from a Trade Deadline rental into a hot commodity.

Huntington declined to say whether he has already opened conversations with Nova's agent. The right-hander has earned the right to free agency, and his second-half turnaround could help him earn a lucrative multiyear deal. It may come from the Pirates or any number of clubs that have caught on to Nova's resurgence.

"Believe it or not, I think the industry has taken notice as well," Hurdle said last week. "It's not a secret. … He has obviously changed the direction of his winter in the last six weeks."

Wading into a weak free-agent pool as a 29-year-old starter, Nova could surpass the value of Happ's three-year, $36 million deal with the Blue Jays. The Bucs hope that Nova's positive experience in Pittsburgh -- working with renowned pitching coach Ray Searage and longtime friend Francisco Cervelli behind the plate -- will give them some sort of advantage.

"This may or may not be that situation. We certainly hope it will be," Huntington said. "We recognize he's had a fantastic two months. … We need to be very cognizant of where the conversation was and where the conversation is and make sure that we're doing everything in our power to make rational, logical decisions for the betterment of the organization."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Pittsburgh Pirates