Third time through order spoils Nova's effort

Bucs righty breezes through 5, but D-backs get to him in 6th, 7th

Third time through order spoils Nova's effort

PITTSBURGH -- Asked what changed for Ivan Nova in the sixth and seventh innings in the Pirates' 3-0 loss to the D-backs on Tuesday night at PNC Park, manager Clint Hurdle responded with mock outrage.

"They scored a run on him in the sixth. Can you believe it?" Hurdle said. "Then they got two more in the seventh, so I don't know what we're going to do with him."

Hurdle's sarcasm with a smile underscored the reality of the night: The loss was not on Nova, who had the audacity to allow three runs in seven innings on the same night Arizona lefty Robbie Ray threw a four-hit shutout, the first of his career.

"It's a professional effort," Hurdle said. "Let's not lose sight of that."

Nova fields a comebacker

Nor should the efficiency of Nova's first five innings be overlooked. In the sixth inning, shortstop Jordy Mercer looked up at the scoreboard and saw it was 8 p.m. ET, 52 minutes after Nova's first pitch. The veteran right-hander had thrown only 38 pitches while facing the minimum 15 batters in five innings.

"I was like, 'Wow, this is pretty crazy,'" Mercer said. "The sun was still up, and we were in the last half of the [game]."

To that point, Nova's longest inning was a nine-pitch second. Of the 27 batters he faced, 17 saw three pitches or fewer. He only ran up a three-ball count against two of those 27 hitters, both of them in the seventh.

"Throwing strikes. They kept swinging at the ball, getting ground balls, swinging first pitch," Nova said. "I was mixing and locating really well."

But without any run support, Nova's mistakes were magnified. After struggling to get a ball out of the infield for five innings, the D-backs made more solid contact in the sixth. Rey Fuentes singled to left, Ray dropped a sacrifice bunt and Chris Owings lined an RBI double to the notch in left-center field for a 1-0 lead.

Nova said he missed more of his spots in the seventh, and the D-backs made him work through a 26-pitch inning. Paul Goldschmidt doubled off the Clemente Wall, barely missing a home run, and scored on an infield single by Brandon Drury. Nova issued a walk to Chris Herrmann, only Nova's sixth free pass of the season, and Fuentes brought home Jake Lamb on a groundout.

Nova retired Ray to complete the seventh, having only thrown 78 pitches.

Nova's first hit of the season

Nearly every pitcher's numbers are worse the third time through the order, and Nova is no exception, even with his otherworldly proficiency for short innings. While opponents are batting just .168 their first time facing Nova in a game and only .250 the second time through the order, they have hit .341 the third time through.

"Everything is the same. Just keep making pitches and attacking, not thinking if it's the third time through or how many pitches I've got," Nova said. "My mindset is just go out there and compete and always try to give the team a chance to win."

Nova has done that. He has pitched at least six innings in each of his 11 starts. Nine of those outings have been quality starts, and only two of them have required more than 95 pitches.

"I've never seen anything like it," Hurdle said. "Through five innings, it was a masterpiece on both sides. Man. No room for error. We didn't have a safety net for him."

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.