Ivan Nova’s increased curveball usage leads to success

After two so-so starts to begin the season, Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Ivan Nova gave the team a much needed quality start on Tuesday in which he went seven innings getting the win against the Chicago Cubs.

It was a positive start for the team as Nova went seven solid innings, giving the Bucs bullpen another light day after Jameson Taillon went the distance on Sunday.

It was also a big start for Nova, who hasn’t provided the Pirates with many as of late.

The seven-inning start was his longest since June 22 of last season, a span of 18 starts.

Of those 18 starts, Nova gave the Pirates six innings only seven times.

Early on this season Nova was affected by the cold weather. You could tell.

He wasn’t hitting his spots with his fastball and didn’t have much late movement, which is something he relied on towards the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017.

The overall line wasn’t great on Tuesday as Nova allowed three earned runs on seven hits, but he didn’t walk anyone and only allowed two hard hit balls all afternoon.

A big reason for that was the increased usage of his curveball.

Throwing the hook

Nova has been the victim of some bad luck early on this season, and that continued in the first inning against the Cubs when a couple of infield singles led to a Cubs run.

His luck changed in the third inning when he began throwing the curveball.

On the day Nova threw 66 of his 102 pitches for strikes but he was very good throwing the curve, throwing 24 of them, on which the Cubs only put two in play.

Overall, Nova’s curveball usage has been low to start the season as he threw more yesterday than his first two starts combined.


It’s also a pitch that opponents haven’t been able to hit much in his three starts.


He also had success with the curveball last season limiting damage and hard contact.

Nova said he didn’t have the feel for the pitch in the first two starts. Now that he had success dumping them in for strikes, let’s see if the curveball usage increases more in the next few starts

Getting away from the four-seamer

With the increased usage on Tuesday of the curveball, it meant less of the four-seemed fastball, which is a pitch he has had problem locating.

Nova threw less of the four-seamer and relied mostly on the sinker and curve and it worked.

Overall he’s not getting the late movement and leaving pitches out over the middle of the plate.

His fastball velocity averaged 93.21 MPH against the Cubs, which is fine when he’s got a good percentage of breaking stuff, which averaged out at 80.53 MPH.

He wasn’t hit hard on the day, but left two fastballs out over the plate and Javier Baez crushed both of them.


The Cubs had their best success on the afternoon off Nova’s fastball and it was nice to see the change in game plan from Nova and Francisco Cervelli.

Who knows if the success will continue, or if it was just one good start, but for a change I liked what I saw from Nova.

Any potential success he has this year could begin and end with the curveball.

Matt Shetler

Matt is a life long Pirates fan with both a newspaper and radio background. Before coming to Pirates Breakdown he was most recently the co-owner and lead columnist for Pittsburgh Sporting News. He has been a credentialed writer for all four major sports and also has written for plenty of other sports and fantasy sports websites.