Nova successful working with 'efficient' pace

Nova successful working with 'efficient' pace

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Efficiency was the key to starter Ivan Nova's turnaround with the Pirates last season. He pounded the strike zone. He threw two complete games and needed fewer than 100 pitches to finish both. He avoided walks like he'd become allergic to them.

Nova looked like the same pitcher on Thursday night, working five quick innings in the Pirates' 4-3 loss to the Red Sox at JetBlue Park. He struck out five Boston hitters and didn't walk any. Of his 65 pitches, 45 were strikes.

Nova was so efficient, in fact, that he had to throw 15 extra pitches in the bullpen after he became the first Pirate to complete five innings this spring. There can't be such a thing as too efficient, right?

Nova fans five over five frames

"Never," Nova said. "That's what you want. That's one of the things that helped me last year, so having the same mindset and doing it in Spring Training, hopefully [I can] carry it into the season."

Acquired from the Yankees just before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, Nova walked a minuscule 1.1 percent of the batters he faced with the Bucs. His first-pitch strike percentages climbed to 66.9 percent, compared to a career mark of 58.6 percent. He was not afraid to challenge hitters with aggressive strikes, he said, and that was again the case on Thursday night.

"I thought it was a snapshot of what we saw the last couple months of the season," manager Clint Hurdle said. "'Efficient' would be the operative word."

This has been a different Spring Training for Nova, already guaranteed a spot in the rotation after years of competing for a job with the Yankees. That security, combined with the comfort he's felt in the Pirates' clubhouse from Day 1, has allowed Nova to flourish. He knows when his first start will come -- April 7 at PNC Park -- and he can focus on fine-tuning until then.

"He's got a rotation spot. They can do that. That's what Spring Training is for," Hurdle said. "It's hard to give a guy a roster spot a lot of times. He's earned his. He's mature in the fact that he knows he's got one. He wants to continue to work and add something every time out. That doesn't surprise me at all from him."

With his schedule set and a number of other pitchers in need of innings, Nova -- like Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon -- has done some of his most important work on the side. Nova's last outing, a four-inning simulated game, re-emphasized the keys to his 2016 success.

"I worked on that the other day and I tried to work on the same thing here. Don't forget to attack the hitter and throw strikes," Nova said. "Obviously whatever I did that day translated to today, and I felt really good."

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