Young pitchers happy to keep 'mentor' Nova

Young pitchers happy to keep 'mentor' Nova

BRADENTON, Fla. -- When Ivan Nova joined the Pirates last August, Chad Kuhl found him to be a quiet veteran. Nice, but not particularly outgoing. Then one day, Kuhl asked his fellow starter and clubhouse neighbor a question about his two-seam fastball.

"He opened up. We had this 30-minute conversation on how to throw it, and when it's not going well, things to correct and look for," Kuhl recalled. "It was this wealth of knowledge that he has. You've just got to ask."

The Pirates brought back Nova last month, signing him to a three-year, $26 million deal. The reunion bolstered Pittsburgh's young pitching staff, providing a mid-rotation starter capable of carrying innings with quality starts. But Nova also brings a degree of experience and leadership his fellow pitchers came to greatly appreciate down the stretch last season.

Nova's fantasy impact on Bucs

One mid-September afternoon in Philadelphia, Nova was essentially holding court in the corner of the visitor's clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park, surrounded by Kuhl, Steven Brault, Trevor Williams, Jameson Taillon and others filtering in and out.

"Ivan Nova was outstanding last year. Guys came up to him and asked him questions, and he was so obliging. It was really nice to see," pitching coach Ray Searage said. "I was privy to be in on some of the conversations that guys were having -- not that I was eavesdropping; I just happened to be there. I encouraged that. I encourage our pitchers to talk amongst themselves. Because they're out there. They can see things."

Gerrit Cole will still be the rotation's leader in several ways. He will presumably be the Bucs' No. 1 starter this year, and he has taken on a more representative role in the clubhouse as the club's rep to the players' union. Cole has been around the Pirates longer, too, and that familiarity is important.

But Cole is still relatively young, entering his age-26 season. Nova turned 30 on Thursday, and he experienced all sorts of highs and lows during his time as a Yankee. With most of the Pirates' rotation being young and homegrown, that different outlook can be valuable.

"He's a really good mentor. He's really good at taking mechanics out of it," Brault said. "He's really knowledgeable. When the game's going on, he'll come up and say, 'Did you see what happened there? Do you realize what we're doing?'

"It's a different perspective, and he obviously has the experience to back it up. It's really cool to have a different perspective. When I was with the Orioles [as a Minor Leaguer], it was very much delivery and mechanics, stuff like that. Here, you have different people with different ideas. Nova's very big into the mental part of the game, being relaxed and attacking and letting the game play itself."

With Nova locked up for the next three years, the Pirates can count on him to help mentor their stable of young starters. All they have to do is ask.

"He was quiet to begin with," Kuhl said. "Once we developed that relationship, it's been really good."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for 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.