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Nova dominates, primed for big season

Hurdle: 'He's found a rhythm and rhyme that fits him well'
MLB.com

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Ivan Nova never fails to mention just how comfortable he is with the Pirates. So, how's his first Spring Training as a Pirate going?

"I think this is the best one so far," Nova said Tuesday after his first start of the spring, a 12-0 loss against the Blue Jays.

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Ivan Nova never fails to mention just how comfortable he is with the Pirates. So, how's his first Spring Training as a Pirate going?

"I think this is the best one so far," Nova said Tuesday after his first start of the spring, a 12-0 loss against the Blue Jays.

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Nova was so efficient in two perfect innings against the Blue Jays at LECOM Park, he had to throw another 15 pitches in the bullpen just to get his work in. He's treating these appearances like the regular season, using his whole arsenal and focusing on first-pitch strikes, even though he already has a rotation spot secured.

"I think he's comfortable but committed," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's found a rhythm and rhyme that fits him well. He has a purpose on this staff."

More specifically, Nova already has his first start set on the calendar: April 7 against the Braves at PNC Park in the Bucs' home opener. He rarely, if ever, had that luxury during his seven years with the Yankees.

"You prepare yourself for the opportunity. It's hard when you're not knowing if you're in the rotation," Nova said. "You don't know how to prepare yourself. This year has been different because I know when I'm going to pitch, so I've got to prepare myself for that day."

Nova might leave camp at some point to pitch for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. He's one of the available arms in the team's Designated Pitcher Pool. He has told club officials he could pitch in the second round, if it were necessary for him to be called upon.

"I'm more than happy to go if they need me," Nova said. "My focus is here right now.

"Once Spring Training starts, you're in business. I approach it like you're in a real game in the season. What you do in Spring Training is what you're going to take to the season. Hopefully everything goes good here and then the season [is] even better."

Nova will technically be the Pirates' No. 4 starter because he's starting their fourth game, but he was one of three Pittsburgh pitchers -- along with Opening Day starter Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon -- informed of their standing more than a month before the start of the season.

Nova said he is "more than happy" to pitch the Pirates' home opener, and it's somewhat appropriate that his 2017 debut will come at PNC Park. The move to Pittsburgh's spacious ballpark was one of several factors that led to Nova's dramatic second-half turnaround last season.

"It's kind of special for me to get the opportunity to work for the fans again," Nova said. "A lot of guys look at it like you're going to be No. 4. I look at it like they want me to feel good when I work in Pittsburgh.

"I've never been a No. 1 in my life, but I will feel like a No. 1 in Pittsburgh."

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

Pittsburgh Pirates, Ivan Nova