Nova hopes to make use of extra bullpen time

Nova hopes to make use of extra bullpen time

PITTSBURGH -- Ivan Nova didn't like the idea of skipping his scheduled start Tuesday, but he quickly came to accept that the Pirates are looking out for him by giving him a breather.

Manager Clint Hurdle informed Nova on Friday that left-hander Steven Brault will be starting in his place. Nova believes he will miss one start, then rejoin Pittsburgh's rotation. He said Saturday he's not feeling fatigued, despite his 6.38 ERA in the second half, but the Pirates have seen signs that indicate otherwise.

"That's one of the reasons we've unplugged him," Hurdle said.

Nova has maintained his velocity, but he is not finishing pitches the way he did during an impressive first half. That has made his sinker, curveball and changeup easier for hitters to square up, and they've done just that, batting .332 with a .580 slugging percentage in Nova's nine second-half starts. In the first half, opponents hit just .254 and slugged at a .415 clip as Nova posted a 3.21 ERA.

Nova fans four over six innings

"I feel like I can pitch every five days. Even when I'm struggling, my job is to go out there and compete," Nova said. "I didn't ask for any time. They told me they think it's the best thing to do right now. … I just follow what they say."

This is the longest stretch in his career Nova has remained in the rotation, he said. In New York, he was often bumped to the bullpen, dropped to Triple-A or skipped. The fact that he has made 38 consecutive starts in a Pirates uniform since last August, including 27 this year, is a point of pride for Nova. He hopes to make four more to finish the season on a high note.

"Keep working. Be smart. They're giving me that time off for a reason," he said. "I let [Hurdle] know my job here is to pitch, and I like to pitch. I spend a lot of time in the offseason on vacation, so I'm not coming here for vacation."

Around the horn

Adam Frazier received his 2017 Heart and Hustle Award from the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association in a pregame ceremony Saturday. A winner is named from each club, and an overall winner will be announced Nov. 14.

"A strong work ethic. Very honest self-confidence. A desire to compete," Hurdle said of Frazier. "He's got a big heart as far as the things you can't measure."

• Mason Martin, a seventh-round Draft pick this year, was named MVP of the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Martin, 18, finished the short season hitting .307/.457/.630, with 11 home runs, 22 RBIs, 32 walks and 41 strikeouts in 39 games.

Top pitching prospect Mitch Keller struck out 11 and allowed only three hits over six scoreless innings for Double-A Altoona on Friday night. Keller, the No. 22 overall prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, has put together a 3.03 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, with 116 strikeouts in 116 innings, in 23 starts between Class A Advanced Bradenton and Double-A Altoona.

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.