THE GAME: Thursday April 20, 2017, one of those 10:35 a.m. Education Day games that some players simply despise, while others have no problem playing. It was the third game of a three-game series against the Columbus Clippers. The weather was cloudy, but there wasn't any rain during the game. Winds were light and the temperature at game time was 58-degrees.
In his first two starts of the season, Nick Pivetta was very impressive. Coming into the game against Columbus, Pivetta was riding an eight-inning scoreless streak, with an ERA of 0.69 in his two starts. Overall, he had thrown 13 innings, with a WHIP of 0.61 thanks to not having issued a walk yet this season. He also had struck out one batter per inning in his first two games. His last outing had been a seven-inning complete game effort against Pawtucket. In fact, both of his starts had been against Pawtucket. It's worth noting that Pawtucket came into Thursday's games batting .239 as a team, the third lowest average in the International League.
Pivetta came to the Phillies in July, 2015 in the deal that sent Jonathan Papelbon to the Washington Nationals, and he was a member of Team Canada, which competed in the WBC this past March.
WHAT HE SHOWED
Swinging Strikes/Called Strikes/Foul Balls: 26/19/22
First pitch strikes: 12 out of 23
Fastest pitch: 96 (one time), Slowest pitch: 76 (five times)
Leadoff men allowed on: 1 out of 6
Line: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, WP (3-0)
Pinto came out establishing his fastball and recorded a 1-2-3 inning in the first. He stuck to that routine in his first time through the order, but did run into some trouble in the second inning when he gave up a two-out walk followed by a double to put runners on second and third. He had gotten ahead of Adam Moore 0-2 and then walked him. In the at-bat, Moore fouled off four pitches, including a 1-2 slider. The double that he gave up to Jordan Smith also came on an 0-2 count, when Pivetta tried to get him to chase a curve, but got it got too much of the plate and Smith pulled it into right field for a double. Pivetta regrouped and struck out Nellie Rodriguez on a good slider away to end the inning.
In his second time through the order, Pivetta looked to use his breaking pitches more and put on a clinic. The 24-year old right-hander put on somewhat of a clinic, striking out five batters in their second at-bat. Giovanny Urshela watched two 76-mph curveballs out of the zone and then singled through the middle on a 93-mph fastball. Just as the second inning damage had come with two outs, Urshela's single - which didn't result in any runs - also came with two outs.
Third time through the order, it was back to throwing more heat. Erik Gonzalez - the first hitter to face Pivetta three times - jumped on a first pitch fastball (93-mph) and tripled on a fly ball to right. Cam Perkins didn't take the best route to the ball and it wound up getting away from him slightly, but it was going to be a triple, so no error was charged.
"With every team, you can't stay with the same thing, so first time through the order, I stayed primarily with the fastball, mixed in a couple sliders. The second time, I used more curves and a change-up here and there," explained Pivetta. "The third time, just contact, I struck a couple of guys out, but I feel like I was more just pounding the zone there, too."
With Gonzalez on third and nobody out, Pivetta had an interesting battle with Ronny Rodriguez. Pivetta put him in an 0-2 hole with two hard fastballs, and Rodriguez then fouled off a 95-mph fastball. Pivetta came back an 85-mph slider and Rodriguez grounded it to short for a routine 6-3 putout, but Gonzalez scored on the play.
"I think the biggest thing was the leadoff triple, and then he goes ahead and takes his groundout, gives up the run and finishes his inning. That's a big thing for a starting pitcher to be able to do," said manager Dusty Wathan. "These guys have to realize that one run isn't going to kill them. He had Rodriguez 0-2 and then instead of trying to strike him out and maybe winding up going 3-2 and walking him, and all heck brakes loose, he said 'let me just get my out and go from here.' I'm proud of him for how he handled himself."
That inning ended Pivetta's scoreless inning streak, which reached 13 innings. It also ended his day on the mound and he left with a 2-1 lead, which Lehigh Valley stretched to a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth on a home run by Perkins.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Pivetta made some mistakes, especially when he had some hitters buried in the count, but the impressive thing is that he didn't compound them and was able to work through them. The only thing that those mistakes really led to were pushing his pitch count a little higher, and possibly cost him the opportunity to pitch into the seventh inning.
"I was hooking the ball a little bit today, and had two walks, which I wasn't very happy about," said Pivetta. "I felt pretty consistent throughout the game."
Throughout the game, Pivetta showed the ability, and the willingness, to throw any of his pitches at any point in the count. He threw a number of 3-2 sliders, including one to Nellie Rodriguez in the fifth inning that had him swinging wildly for a strikeout.
"That was a really good slider," said Pivetta. "I've been working on that with Lundy [IronPigs pitching coach Dave Lundquist], so I was happy about that."
Being able to throw all four of his pitches at any point in the count has been a big change for Pivetta. Over the last year, he's shown more and more confidence in his secondary pitches.
"I've gotten a lot more consistent with all of them. I've been working with Lundy and when I first came over here, I don't know that I could have thrown a 3-2 slider even the beginning of a year ago. Now, I'm throwing it 3-2 and it makes me feel really good that I can do that. The guys in the big league can throw those pitches every single count, so that's what I'm working on."
While his physical ability has definitely improved, Pivetta is crossing a milestone that many young pitchers have to get to that will separate them from the rest. The absolute trust in their pitches, and the willingness to be comfortable on the mound. Pivetta evidenced that in dealing with runners on second and third early in the game and again with a leadoff triple in the sixth. He also showed it with his pitch selection throughout the game.
"They have to be able to throw something other than a fastball, especially when you get to 3-2 or get 2-0, behind in the count. It's kind of the progression through the minor leagues," said Wathan. "This is kind of the finishing ground when you have to be able to throw any of your pitches in any count, and he's getting close to reaching that finish line."