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Nova brilliant in complete-game Game 2 victory

@scottmerkin
August 14, 2019

CHICAGO -- Maybe contending teams should have taken a closer look at Ivan Nova before the July 31 Trade Deadline. With his complete-game effort in Tuesday’s 4-1 victory over the Astros in Game 2 of a doubleheader at Guaranteed Rate Field, the veteran right-hander improved to 4-0 over his last

CHICAGO -- Maybe contending teams should have taken a closer look at Ivan Nova before the July 31 Trade Deadline.

With his complete-game effort in Tuesday’s 4-1 victory over the Astros in Game 2 of a doubleheader at Guaranteed Rate Field, the veteran right-hander improved to 4-0 over his last five starts. That stretch began with a complete game against the Marlins on July 22; he has allowed two earned runs (five total) over his last 37 innings as part of this run for a minuscule 0.49 ERA.

Box score

Nova also shows up against baseball’s top teams. He has two wins over the Astros, allowing three earned runs in 16 innings. He has allowed one earned run over 10 2/3 innings against the National League Central-leading Cubs and has five earned runs yielded over 21 innings against the Indians, though two of those starts came before Cleveland turned it around.

“I don't know why. I wish I could pitch well against everybody,” said a smiling Nova after improving to 8-9 overall. “But I don't know, man, I always like facing those types of teams. The challenge is big, and when you know what you're capable of doing, you don't mind. If you're doing good things and pitching good games, it doesn't matter who you're facing.”

“Exactly the way we scripted it,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Talked about getting a guy to pitch, execute, keep us in the game. Nova was very, very efficient.”

Nova’s four-hit performance gave the White Sox a split of the doubleheader after they dropped a 6-2 decision in the opener despite Dylan Cease's first career quality start. Nova’s ERA stood at 6.28 on June 13 but dropped to 4.51 as of Tuesday, after he retired 16 straight Astros before Yordan Alvarez’s two-out single in the ninth.

So what has changed for Nova, who came to the White Sox via a trade with Pittsburgh holding the reputation as an innings eater with impeccable control? Nova pointed to help from pitching coach Don Cooper, bullpen coach Curt Hasler and teammate Reynaldo López to fix a flaw in his mechanics that made him too quick, but otherwise, it’s simply better command.

“I'm locating my pitches better and throwing way more strikes, but it's the same sequence I've been using, and it's getting good results,” Nova said. “I know they are really aggressive. I was watching the first game, and I saw Cease getting nine ground balls in a row, when they were swinging at the first, second pitch. My focus was trying to get ahead in the count and pitch up in the strike zone a little bit more.”

“He was in command and getting some early outs. We just pounced the ball into the ground a little bit too much,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said. “That's what he does when he's right. He threw a lot of strikes. A lot of quiet offense for us, but a lot of it was what he was doing in moving his pitches around, changing some speeds and keeping the ball on the ground.”

The White Sox took advantage of a bullpen night employed by the Astros after Gerrit Cole was scratched minutes before the start of Game 2 with right hamstring discomfort. Ryan Goins topped the offense with two hits and two RBIs.

White Sox starting pitchers have a 1.33 ERA over their last six games, and for the first time since 2015 (John Danks and Jeff Samardzija), the White Sox have multiple starters with two-plus complete games in the same season. Lucas Giolito has two and so does the rejuvenated Nova, who allowed one earned run or fewer in a career-high fifth straight start.

“It feels good, it feels good. That's what I was hoping from the beginning,” said Nova, who recorded nine ground-ball outs. “Thankfully, we turned things around and are pitching better.”

“His demeanor, his experience, he's been around a while,” Renteria said. “And he just goes and tries to do his stuff, doesn't try to do too much, stays within himself, tries to hit his spots.”

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.