corey seidman

What Nick Pivetta's emergence means for Phillies

What Nick Pivetta's emergence means for Phillies

The Phillies knew what they had with Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola, Tommy Hunter and (injured) Pat Neshek, and to a lesser extent Hector Neris and Luis Garcia.

What they did not know entering the season was how Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez would pitch, or how the end of the bullpen would shake out.

With 21 games in the books, they've received key contributions from several emerging pitchers and that is a major reason why they're 14-7 despite a .231 team batting average

Pivetta had another strong start Sunday, making one mistake and limiting the Pirates to two runs over 6⅓ innings. In five starts, he has a 2.57 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and he's struck out 28 batters in 28 innings while walking four.

Over his last eight starts dating back to last September, Pivetta has an ERA of 2.00 on the dot.

Even the most optimistic Phillies observers couldn't have envisioned such a fast and consistent start for Pivetta in Year 2.

"He's still carrying over what he did in spring training, which is pitch to the top of the zone and the bottom of the zone," manager Gabe Kapler said after Sunday's win. "The north-south effect with his fastball-curveball combination. He's mixing in a slider. Right-handed hitters can't tell if it's a curveball or a slider. They're showing you that with their swings."

Pivetta misses a lot of bats with high fastballs that hitters just can't catch up to. He also has a sharp breaking ball, which was apparent from his first start last season. The main issue was his control. He had seven starts last season with four or more walks. So far in 2018, he's a different guy.

"I think we saw glimpses of it last year with a little bit less consistency," said Andrew Knapp, who has caught all five of Pivetta's starts. "Right now, he's really confident in what he's doing. It's kind of becoming an every-time-out thing where he's really pounding the strike zone and he's got four pitches he can throw in any count.

"The fastball is electric. When the other hitters feel the fastball, it opens up the off-speed."

Pivetta will probably not finish the season with an ERA under 3.00, but the Phillies aren't asking him to be an ace. They're asking him to be a consistent mid-rotation piece, and his upside could allow him to become much more than that.

It could also change the ceiling of the 2018 Phillies.

"I think it does. I think it does," Kapler said. "I think it's the emergence of Nick. I think it's the emergence of Velasquez. I think it's relievers we can go to that have sort of behaved like the guys you depend on every day in the seventh, eighth and ninth. 

"We have Garcia, (Adam) Morgan and Neris as the guys coming out of camp who we knew were going to perform in those situations. Now you have (Tommy) Hunter coming back. You've got [Pat Neshek] not that far away. And you have (Yacksel) Rios, (Victor) Arano and (Edubray) Ramos performing like this. It's very encouraging."

That's a pretty deep bullpen in addition to a solid rotation. Hunter made his Phillies debut Sunday and needed just eight pitches in a 1-2-3 eighth inning. His cutter, which he threw 20 percent more often last season than he did the prior three, will make him a weapon against left-handed batters.

As for Velasquez, he'll have a chance Tuesday to kick it up another notch against a very good Diamondbacks lineup that may get power-hitting lefty Jake Lamb back in time for the series.

It's still April, but the Phils have the chance to make a little statement with a series win over the 15-6 D-backs.

"It would be awesome," Kapler said, "for us to go out there and tackle Arizona the way we did Pittsburgh."

Phillies' 2 most surprising pitchers pave way for walk-off win

Phillies' 2 most surprising pitchers pave way for walk-off win

BOX SCORE

The Phillies walked it off against the Pirates Sunday, winning 3-2 in 11 innings to complete a four-game sweep over a team that entered Citizens Bank Park six games over .500.

Andrew Knapp and Aaron Altherr took care of the 11th-inning heroics with a triple and a game-winning single, but it was the work of the Phillies' two most surprising pitchers which put them in position to do so.

Nick Pivetta continued the Phillies' strong run of starting pitching, allowing two runs over 6⅓ innings with seven strikeouts. He paid for his only mistake, a two-run homer by catcher Elias Diaz. The Phils had just one hit while Pivetta was in the game.

Victor Arano, who began the season by retiring 25 consecutive batters, lost his streak of perfection but more importantly weaved his way out of rallies in both the ninth and 10th innings, stranding two runners apiece.

At 14-7, the Phillies ended Sunday's game just a half-game behind the Mets and Diamondbacks for the best record in the National League.

They allowed just five runs in the four-game sweep of the Pirates.

Dominant starting pitching
The Phillies' starting rotation has been lights-out the last dozen games. Just have a look:

• 2.38 ERA
• 0.98 WHIP
• 8.0 K/9
• 1.8 BB/9
• .218 opponents' batting average
• 11 extra-base hits allowed in 12 games

Pivetta himself is on a roll, allowing a total of five runs in his last four starts. 

Including the final few weeks of 2017, Pivetta has a 2.00 ERA over his last eight outings with 47 strikeouts and 12 walks in 45 innings.

Pivetta has been especially effective the first time facing a batting order this season. His opponents have hit .167/.195/.195 the first time through with 15 strikeouts and no walks.

There are just three National League pitchers who have 14 Ks and no walks the first time through a batting order and the Phillies have two of them in Pivetta and Vince Velasquez. (D-backs lefty Patrick Corbin is the other.)

Make 'em work
Offensively, the Phils couldn't muster much off Pirates right-hander Trevor Williams. They did, however, have five walks and a two-run fifth inning keyed by Pivetta's first career double and RBI. 

Through five innings, Williams had thrown 42 strikes and 41 balls. This Phils team really makes pitchers work.

Hunter debuts
Reliever Tommy Hunter made his Phillies debut after missing the first 20 games with a hamstring injury. He had a quick, impressive eighth inning, retiring the side on just eight pitches with a groundout, popout and strikeout.

Hunter was signed to a two-year, $18 million contract this offseason.

Up next
The Phillies are off Monday before beginning a three-game home series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who entered Sunday tied with the Mets for the best record in the NL (14-6).

The pitching matchups for that series:

Tuesday: Vince Velasquez (1-2, 3.80) vs. LHP Robbie Ray (2-0, 4.98)

Wednesday: Jake Arrieta (2-0, 2.04) vs. Zack Greinke (2-1, 4,13)

Thursday: Ben Lively (0-1, 4.64) vs. Matt Koch (0-0, 1.13)

Former Phillies 1st-rounder Jesse Biddle earns win in MLB debut

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AP Images

Former Phillies 1st-rounder Jesse Biddle earns win in MLB debut

Former Phillies first-round pick Jesse Biddle had a memorable major-league debut Saturday night for a division rival. 

Biddle, the 27th overall pick by the Phillies in 2010 out of Germantown Friends High School, pitched a scoreless ninth inning of relief for the Braves, earning the victory after Atlanta came back in the bottom half against Mets closer Jeurys Familia.

Minutes earlier, Biddle had to bear down with two outs and a man on third base and his team trailing by a run. Yoenis Cespedes launched a moonshot homer to left field that was originally ruled a home run before being overturned to a foul ball. On the next pitch, Biddle got Cespedes to tap out to short to end the inning.  

Good for the now 26-year-old Biddle, who battled injuries during a rough minor-league career with the Phils. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2015, Biddle was traded to the Pirates and then claimed by the Braves in the spring of 2017.

The Phillies have no major-leaguers left from that 2010 draft class, which also produced Cameron Rupp, David Buchanan and Mario Hollands.