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Firsthand Observation: Nick Pivetta

Rob Brantly / Nick Pivetta (Photo by Cheryl Pursell)
Rob Brantly and Nick Pivetta walk to the dugout after completing their warm-ups in the bullpen on Sunday, April 28, 2019. Pivetta struck out a career-high 14 batters in a win over Buffalo. (Photo by Cheryl Pursell)

Nick Pivetta showed on Sunday just why he can be so frustrating. Optioned out to Triple-A Lehigh Valley after four rough starts to open the year with the Phillies, Pivetta struck out a career-high 14 Buffalo Bisons batters and pitched exactly how the Phillies had wanted him to pitch during his stint with Lehigh Valley.

The objective was for Pivetta to be more aggressive with inside fastballs and show better command of his off-speed pitches. Pivetta did both on Sunday.

Consider the following numbers from his start:

  • Pivetta faced 24 batters and threw a first pitch strike to 17 of them.
  • He put 12 – a full half – of the batters he faced down 0-2 in the count.
  • He struck out the first six batters he faced and eight of the first 11.
  • He recorded at least two strikeouts in all six innings he pitched.
  • His fastball was between 94 and 96 on the radar gun.
  • Pivetta threw 108 pitches, 68 for strikes.

Pivetta was not available for comment following the game, but his catcher, Rob Brantly, offered some interesting observations. “It was Nick Pivetta Day. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and went out and executed.”

In their pre-game discussion, Pivetta unfolded a game plan that was exactly what the Phillies had asked him to show. He wanted to use the fastball early to get ahead of hitters and then the off-speed pitches to put them away. He wanted to be aggressive, pitch inside and stay ahead of hitters. Mission accomplished. In addition to those objectives, Pivetta showed a mound presence that he has rarely shown in the past.

“My man was dialed in,” explained Brantly. “He came in to prove a point today, and the first six batters, I think he made his point. He did that throughout his whole outing. There as absolute laser focus and fierce mound presence.”

Pivetta got into a one-out jam in the fourth when he walked Cavan Biggio, allowed him to move to second on a wild pitch, and then gave up a double to Richard Urena for the only run that he allowed in the game. After the double to Urena, he gave up a base-hit to Anthony Alford, who then stole second. After striking out Justin Patterson, he walked Andy Burns to load the bases. He worked out of the jam with a strikeout of Roemon Fields.

“He got into a little trouble there, but he minimized the damage and that’s what you want to do in a situation like that,” said ‘Pigs manager Gary Jones.

If you have to nit-pick, you can point to the high pitch count. The fourth inning problems killed his pitch count, with Pivetta needing 34 pitches to get through the inning. When you consider that his other five innings took just 74 pitches – an average of just under 15 per inning – the pitch count can be easily explained by one bad blip on the radar.

Pivetta’s previous career-high came last June when he struck out 13 St. Louis Cardinals. As a minor leaguer, his high had been 12, which came against Columbus in April of 2017. The IronPigs record for strikeouts in a game is 17 by Les Walrond, which came back on July 6, 2008, the first year of the IronPigs existence. Four other relievers combined to strikeout another five batters, giving the IronPigs a new franchise record of 19 strikeouts in a nine-inning game.

In short, Pivetta had one of those days where he was able to pull everything together and make it work.

“It didn’t matter what pitch I called today,” Brantly explained. “Even in the bullpen, you could see he was dialed in.”

Brantly is in his first season with the Phillies organization, but he was able to put his finger precisely on the issue that has frustrated the Phillies with Nick Pivetta. “I would’t say it’s rare,” said Brantly of pitchers being dialed in as much as Pivetta was on Sunday. “I think it’s in the tank for every player. It’s just about getting to that point mentally and finding a way to do that on a consistent basis. I think it’s there for everybody; once they find that in them to bring that out every single outing, every single day, then they make the jump and they stay in the big leagues. The stuff is always there, it’s just the consistency.”

Nick Pivetta vs. Buffalo – April 28, 2019

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