CHICAGO — If there was any doubt Ivan Nova was ready to return, it disappeared as soon as the curveball left his right hand and landed in Elias Diaz's glove in the first inning. Javy Baez, the Cubs' second baseman, walked back to the third-base dugout, head hanging, after striking out on the breaking ball.
It was the first out of one of the more encouraging starts by a Pirates pitcher in the past six weeks. Nova, activated from the 10-day disabled list Sunday morning, allowed only one run on four hits, and the Pirates' offense used a five-run sixth inning to avoid a series sweep with a 7-1 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Last month, a sprained right ring finger took the bite out of Nova's curveball, prevented his changeup from breaking down in the zone and robbed him of his fastball command. All were returned to him in his first start back, and he received help from an offense that hadn't scored in 17 consecutive innings.