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Location issues continue to haunt Nova

MLB.com

SAN DIEGO -- Control is not the issue for Ivan Nova. Nor is his stuff noticeably different than it was earlier this season. So why is he getting hit harder lately? It's a matter of location.

Nova gave up four runs on eight hits, five for extra bases, over five innings in the Pirates' 4-2 loss Saturday night at Petco Park. He's worked only five innings in three of his last six starts after pitching at least six in each of his first 15 outings this season. During that stretch, he has posted a 5.88 ERA while opponents have hit .319 against him.

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SAN DIEGO -- Control is not the issue for Ivan Nova. Nor is his stuff noticeably different than it was earlier this season. So why is he getting hit harder lately? It's a matter of location.

Nova gave up four runs on eight hits, five for extra bases, over five innings in the Pirates' 4-2 loss Saturday night at Petco Park. He's worked only five innings in three of his last six starts after pitching at least six in each of his first 15 outings this season. During that stretch, he has posted a 5.88 ERA while opponents have hit .319 against him.

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Nova is still throwing strikes, running up only one three-ball count Saturday night. He struck out six Padres without a walk. He walked only four batters in five starts this month. He was efficient despite the damage, getting through five innings on 67 pitches.

His average two-seam fastball on Saturday clocked in at 93.4 mph, according to Statcast™, and the Padres swung and missed on seven of the 17 curveballs he threw. But Nova's command within the strike zone has not been as sharp, he admitted.

"I had a good angle with the ball, but I was missing my location. Location is really important," Nova said. "No matter what team you're facing, if you miss, you're going to get hit."

Hitters are looking for strikes and getting them, just as they were when Nova was dominating opponents earlier this season. But there is a difference between a pitcher pounding the zone and one hitting his spots.

"They feel comfortable, there's no doubt. But if you can make your pitches, you'll be fine," Nova said. "A lot of times, I was trying to go up and in, and the ball missed down and in, right in their sweet spot. Tried to go away, the ball came back to the plate, put a good swing on it. It's tough when you're not locating very well. We'll keep working."

Tweet from @adamdberry: Nova allowed five homers in his first 11 starts this season. He's given up 14 in his last 10, at least one in every July start. 4-0, Padres.

Manager Clint Hurdle suggested opposing hitters are now keying in on the low sinkers and curveballs that induced weak grounders and whiffs earlier this year. To that end, five of the eight hits Nova allowed Saturday were on pitches in the lower third of the zone.

"He's got an M.O. of working down in the zone," Hurdle said. "More than anything, they're just hunting down in the zone, looking down earlier than they had in the past."

Compound that with Nova's mistakes, and you get sequences like the first inning Saturday night at Petco Park. The first five Padres put the ball in the air. Manuel Margot singled. Carlos Asuaje ripped an out to left field. Jose Pirela tripled. Hector Sanchez doubled. Cory Spangenberg singled to right.

After that, Nova settled down. He retired seven of the next eight hitters he faced before Spangenberg singled and Renfroe doubled him home in the fourth. The only damage after that was Margot's fifth-inning homer off the Western Metal Building, which came on a changeup left up and over the plate.

"There were times where he was really looking solid," Hurdle said. "It's been a little bit of a rough stretch for him. However, I do think he's tracking back in the right direction."

Nova felt the same way, giving him reason to believe he'll rediscover his early season form soon enough.

"It's not the way you want to pitch, but if you look at the way I was throwing in the past, the angle and strength of my pitches, it was there today," Nova said. "I was just missing location."

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