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'First-half Nova' emerges in loss to Brewers

Special to MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle noticed a different Ivan Nova on Tuesday night in Milwaukee, the version the team saw much of the first half of the season -- and the one they need for the stretch run.

Nova entered Tuesday's start against the Brewers with a 6.67 ERA in five starts since the All-Star break, a stark contrast to the 3.21 ERA he put forth over his first 18 outings. Although he took the loss in the Pirates' 3-1 defeat vs. the Brewers, Nova was as sharp as he has been since early June, when he carried a sub-3.00 ERA.

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MILWAUKEE -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle noticed a different Ivan Nova on Tuesday night in Milwaukee, the version the team saw much of the first half of the season -- and the one they need for the stretch run.

Nova entered Tuesday's start against the Brewers with a 6.67 ERA in five starts since the All-Star break, a stark contrast to the 3.21 ERA he put forth over his first 18 outings. Although he took the loss in the Pirates' 3-1 defeat vs. the Brewers, Nova was as sharp as he has been since early June, when he carried a sub-3.00 ERA.

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"I liked the whole package tonight," Hurdle said. "He executed the game plan, first-pitch strikes, the changeup-fastball combination early. The ball was down. He had good angle. The curveball played in the middle innings. I thought he pitched really, really well."

Nova has been hit hard in the second half of the season, allowing 43 hits over his last 28 1/3 innings.

The Brewers managed just four singles off the right-hander Tuesday, one being a broken-bat flare and the other three being of the infield variety.

Tweet from @Pirates: The line on @IvanNova47 tonight👇 pic.twitter.com/TGhUtqUaty

"One thing I have had on my mind since my last start was trying to throw quality strikes," Nova said. "Today was one of those days where I wasn't afraid to walk a guy. I was focused on making my pitches when I wanted to, and force hitters to hit what I wanted."

A broken-bat single by Travis Shaw followed by a walk, an error and a fielder's choice plated Milwaukee's first run in the second inning. The second run Nova allowed was unearned; Shaw walked, reached second on a passed ball, third on a groundout, then scored on Manny Pina's two-out infield single. Pina hit a weak ground ball that was deflected by third baseman David Freese to shortstop Jordy Mercer, who made a strong throw to first, but Josh Bell was ruled to have pulled is foot off the bag, allowing Pina to reach and Shaw to score.

"He was tough tonight," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. "He pitched [Ryan] Braun about as good as we've seen somebody pitch him in a long time. Nothing to hit. No good pitches to hit.

"We had some good at-bats and took advantage of the mistake they made in the second to score a run. We caught a break on a little ground ball in the sixth and that was it. He shut us down."

Nova credited his ability to keep the ball off the barrel and avoiding mistakes out over the plate.

"The angle of my pitches was where it was supposed to be," Nova said. "If I was missing, I was missing off the plate. That's a big difference."

Despite the loss, the Pirates remain just 4 1/2 games back of the Cubs for first place in the National League Central. If the Pirates are going to make a late-season push, they'll need the version of Nova they saw in the first half and Tuesday night.

"This is the guy we saw pitch really effectively last year at the end and through the first two months," Hurdle said. "His arm looked fresh. What I really liked was the arm speed. I think that's what made the changeup play so well."

Andrew Gruman is a contributor to MLB.com based in Milwaukee who covered the Brewers on Tuesday.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Ivan Nova