December 27, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) Given a chance to explore the free agency market for the first time in his career, pitcher Ivan Nova methodically went through the process, listening to offers but never really changing his mindset.

All things being equal - and just as importantly, all money being equal - Nova wanted to stick with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where the right-hander gave his uneven career a jump start with two occasionally brilliant months after being acquired at the trade deadline from the New York Yankees.

''My focus was trying to get it done with the Pirates,'' Nova said Tuesday after signing a three-year deal with Pittsburgh that will pay him just shy of $9 million a season.

General manager Neal Huntington spent several years trying to pry Nova from the Yankees, who finally let him go in August in exchange for a pair of minor leaguers. Nova rebounded almost immediately upon arrival, going 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA in 11 starts with the Pirates, who faded from contention down the stretch to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

While the season may have been lost, the rebirth Nova experienced opened both his eyes and those in Pittsburgh's front office. Working with pitching coach Ray Searage, Nova cut his walk rate drastically and kept the ball down in the strike zone: two things vital to thriving in cavernous PNC Park.

''It's one thing to see sink from a distance from across the field,'' Huntington said. ''You see him spin a breaking ball, attacking the zone the way he did in our ballpark in front of our defense ... it leads us to believe (he) can be a quality starting pitcher.''

Nova called the decision to stay in Pittsburgh ''easy,'' pointing to his comfort level with Searage, manager Clint Hurdle and catchers Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, both of whom caught for Nova in New York before making their way to the Pirates. Cervelli was the first teammate to text Nova congratulations when reports of the deal surfaced last week.

Searage has developed a reputation for helping veteran pitchers rediscover their stuff, working with Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and J.A. Happ among others during the team's return to prominence under Hurdle. Nova showed all the markings of another successful rehab while issuing just three walks in 64 2/3 innings in Pittsburgh, down from 25 in 97 1/3 innings in New York. Having a motivated student helped. Nova arrived in Pittsburgh rejuvenated by the opportunity for a fresh start.

''Sometimes you're not happy (and) you're not happy you don't perform the well,'' Nova said. ''You want to prove you can pitch better than you did, and that's what I did.''

Nova will fit in the rotation somewhere behind Gerrit Cole and is confident the Pirates can bounce back after a subpar year in which the pitching staff's ERA ballooned from 3.21 in 2015 to 4.21.

''What we have here I think is enough to compete,'' Nova said. ''We have a lot of young talented players. A great pitching staff. Got to go out there and stay healthy and put it together.''

The staff behind Cole, Nova and Jameson Taillon remains unsettled. The Pirates remain open to bringing in more depth but Huntington stressed ''we do like the group we have.'' It's a group that includes Nova, who turns 30 in January eager to show the stuff he showed in late summer wasn't a mirage.

''This wasn't two months out of nowhere,'' Huntington said. ''He's a guy who's had success prior, made a few adjustments with his coming to Pittsburgh and we believe we can continue to keep him growing and moving forward.''

You May Like