Ivan Nova hit hard as Pirates hit new lows in loss to Phillies
PHILADELPHIA — A few hard-hit balls off Ivan Nova led to a loss that dropped the Pirates to new season-worst depths.
Freddy Galvis hit a towering home run in the first inning. Maikel Franco homered two innings later, and the Philadelphia Phillies extended the Pirates' losing streak to four with a 4-0 win Monday.
The Pirates (37-46) fell a season-worst seven games out of first place and tied a season-low by falling nine games under .500.
"We have to play better. We need to play better," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We need to figure some things out for more consistency because we're in the hunt. We're in games. We're not finishing games in complete cycles. The effort is there every night. The attitude is good. However, we've got to play better to get on the other side of the scoreboard."
The Pirates remained winless more than midway through a seven-game stretch against the two teams with the majors' worst records. They followed being swept at home by the San Francisco Giants with a listless offensive performance against the Phillies.
Aaron Nola (6-5) limited the Pirates to four hits and a walk over seven innings.
The Pirates scored just four runs over their past three games (29 innings). They were hitless Monday until Jordy Mercer's two-out, line-drive double off the glove of third baseman Franco in the fifth.
Named National League player of the month for June earlier in the day, Andrew McCutchen had a two-out double in the sixth but would go 1 for 4 for the second consecutive day.
There wasn't much more offense for the Pirates. Their best chance to score came in the seventh when David Freese and Gregory Polanco led off with singles — the latter a misplayed ball in right. But after Freese went to third on a fielder's choice, Nola ended the threat by striking out the final two batters he faced: Mercer and pinch hitter John Jaso.
"He was able to mix his pitches and work the corners, and that's the name of the game as a pitcher," second baseman Josh Harrison said. "He didn't really miss spots. He threw well."
As he had done with remarkable consistency throughout his mostly exceptional 11 months with the Pirates, Nova pitched to contact against the Phillies.
The problem? The Phillies made hard contact.
Nova had just one strikeout — but that's not alarming. When Nova is at his best, it is when opponents swing early in the count and produce weakly hit ground balls resulted.
Nova induced plenty of ground balls Monday: 11 outs were grounders as opposed to three flyouts. But when the ball was lifted — especially early — it was hit hard. At Citizens Bank Park, that produced runs.
Galvis turned on the fourth pitch of the game — a 93.5-mph four-seam fastball — and hit it 417 feet into the second deck in right-center, per Statcast. Franco followed by stinging a 109.2-mph single on a line drive to left.
In the third inning just after a Galvis bunt single, Franco pulled another Nova four-seamer to left that had an exit velocity of 110.1 mph.
Both home runs came on the first pitch.
"I've got to continue to be aggressive," Nova said, "but with quality strikes."
According to Statcast, five balls put in play off Nova had exit velocities of more than 100 mph. Four came in the first three innings. The Phillies had just one hit after Franco's home run.
The biggest problem over the first three innings was the continuation of a recent theme for Nova — missing with his curveball. Seven of the first eight he threw were balls. But finding the curveball coincided with the solid finish for the veteran. Starting in the fourth inning, six of the final eight curves he threw were strikes.
Even last year in a nonplayoff season, the Pirates didn't lose their 46th game until July 20. The current losing streak is the Pirates' fourth of at least four games this season.
"Obviously, we are not where we wanna be right now this year," Harrison said. "But we know baseball is a game of opportunity and every night we have an opportunity to out there and do some stuff.
"So I think that's what kind of happens with our group. We've got a core group of guys who have been here, neen through adversity, been through the ups and downs. So we've just got to stay the course."
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.