Pirates top Braves behind strong start from Nova
ATLANTA — For six innings on Thursday, Pirates right-hander Ivan Nova was masterful against the Atlanta Braves.
Nova scatted three hits, induced nine ground-ball outs and let just one runner reach second base. He needed only 53 pitches to navigate six innings.
Who can blame him for wanting more of that?
His performance was dented when the Braves scored single runs in the seventh and eighth innings. After Nova gave up back-to-back hits in the ninth, he watched reliever Jhan Marinez get final two outs of the Pirates’ 9-4 victory.
Nova got the win, but didn’t find much else to savor.
“When I get to the ninth inning with a lead, I’ve got to be able to finish them off,” Nova said. “I was pitching a really good game. I lost my quality start. You don’t worry about it because we won the game, and that’s the most important thing. But, in the end, you want to pitch as good as you can.”
Nova (5-3) gave up four runs on 10 hits, walked one and struck out one. After going winless in his first three starts this month, the right-hander has posted back-to-back wins.
Perhaps Nova is being too hard on himself. For a few days this week, Nova wasn’t even sure he would be able to pitch against the Braves.
In his previous start last Saturday against Philadelphia, Nova wrenched his left knee as he chased Cesar Hernandez’s bunt. The knee was still sore four days later.
“I was worried about whether I would be able to go,” Nova admitted.
There was still some discomfort while he was on the mound, but Nova said it was masked by the adrenaline rush of pitching. Catcher Francisco Cervelli said he couldn’t tell how much Nova’s knee was bothering him.
“I asked him (about it), but he’s not going to get off the mound,” Cervelli said. “It’s been a long time for him, waiting for this opportunity. He’s not going to miss it.”
Through four innings, Nova thew just 34 pitches. Braves right-hander Bartolo Colon, meanwhile, threw 35 in the second inning alone.
The Pirates batted around against Colon (2-5), who turned 44 years old Wednesday, and took a 5-0 lead.
The big blow was a three-run homer by Adam Frazier, who was born just six years before Colon made his big league debut in 1997.
“I faced him in spring (training), so I had a pretty good idea what we was going to do,” Frazier said. “He’s been around a while. That means he knows what he’s doing.”
It was Frazier’s third three-run homer this season, which tied him for second in the National League with Aaron Atherr, Will Myers and Travis Shaw. Anthony Rendon has four.
In the fifth inning, Cervelli doubled — giving him hits in five straight at-bats, going back to Tuesday — and Jose Osuna walked. Jordy Mercer lined a two-run double to left field to make it 7-0.
Armed with a big lead, Nova was able to keep it simple. He heaved a bunch of mid-90s two-seamers and let the Braves hack away.
“We don’t do anything special,” Cervelli said. “Same thing, sinker down. Our plan always is to make the other guys swing. That’s why he’s so successful right now, because he throws strikes.”
Although Nova never retired more than six in a row, he was stayed in charge with pitch efficiency. He got through the first inning on seven pitches, threw six in the third, and nine apiece in the fourth and fifth.
“It was no secret. Those guys knew he was throwing strikes,” Josh Harrison said. “But he was able to let his sinker work. He worked quick, got us in and allowed us to keep banging.”
Nova lost is shutout bid in the seventh. Matt Adams doubled and scored on Rio Ruiz’s two-out single.
Cervelli’s bases-loaded single in the ninth put the Pirates up 9-2. It also gave him four hits in the game, matching his career high, and made up for some of those hard liners that went directly into fielder’s gloves earlier this season.
“Baseball can be something crazy,” Cervelli said. “You have to be patient and keep doing what you can do.”
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.