Justin Verlander

Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta goes to school on Justin Verlander

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Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta goes to school on Justin Verlander

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DUNEDIN, Fla. — For a gazillion years, pitchers have been told to keep the ball down. That is still valuable advice, but with more and more hitters looking to launch the ball with an upward swing path these days, power pitchers are striking back with a high fastball above the bat head.

Nick Pivetta has a power fastball and he’s working on this technique. He consciously threw some fastballs above the belt in his two-inning spring debut Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

“We're telling all of our pitchers, we're asking them to do some new things,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “And there's going to be some times in spring training games when you get hit a little bit.”

That’s OK. The new-school Phillies want their players to be open to new ideas. Pivetta, who struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings in 26 starts last season, is open learning to ride a high fastball by a hitter looking to launch. He watched on television as Justin Verlander did that for Houston in the postseason last year and he’s watched more video of Verlander and interacted with Phillies coaches about the strategy this spring.

“A key point that they brought to me was how Verlander pitched in the playoffs,” Pivetta said. “I think that’s something I can learn from a lot of the time, how he did it when he came over to Houston.

“It’s part of pitching. You’ve got to be able to command the zone, both the top and bottom. It’s not to say we’re going to only throw up. It’s just something else to work on.”

Pivetta pitched two innings and struck out three in the 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays. He allowed three hits, a walk and two runs in the first inning. One of the hits was a solo homer by Curtis Granderson on a hanging breaking ball.

Kapler was pleased with Pivetta’s performace and his reponse to trying new things.

“He executed his game plan today,” Kapler said. “He executed some pretty nasty sliders at the bottom of the zone. He executed some fastballs at the top of the zone. He missed some bats, which is really encouraging.

“One of the things we’re working on with him is elevating a little bit. He has velocity and strong pitch characteristics to pitch up in the zone. But he also has the ability to pitch down in the zone with his slider and his curveball.

“He kicked ass today. He did everything we asked him to do.”

The Phillies host the Orioles on Saturday. Zach Eflin will be the starting pitcher.

MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

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MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

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HOUSTON — Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

MLB Notes: Astros acquire Justin Verlander to boost rotation

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MLB Notes: Astros acquire Justin Verlander to boost rotation

HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros have acquired Justin Verlander in a trade with the Detroit Tigers.

The right-hander joins the American League West leaders and a rotation that includes Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers.

Astros owner Jim Crane says: "He adds a boost to our rotation. He's been pitching well. We think he'll give us some leadership. He's been in the playoffs before and adds a dimension we didn't have."

The 34-year-old Verlander, who won the Cy Young Award in 2011, is 10-8 with a 3.82 ERA this season. The Tigers will receive three minor league prospects.

Crane hopes Verlander is a piece that can help the Astros in the postseason. He says: "We hope it positions us to get into the playoffs, get by the first round, get into the second round and get to the world series and win it. That's what we've been working at and that's what we'll continue to work at and we want to win" (see full story).   

Giants: Bumgarner scratched with flu-like symptoms
SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner was a late scratch for Thursday night's game against the St. Louis Cardinals as a result of flu symptoms, the team announced.

Right-hander Matt Cain (3-10, 5.75 ERA) started in his place. The team has not yet announced when Bumgarner will return to the starting rotation.

Bumgarner (3-6, 2.85) is 3-3 in nine starts since coming off the disabled list on July 15 after spending nearly three months on it with a left shoulder AC sprain and bruised ribs. The 28-year-old lefthander suffered the injuries in a dirt-biking accident in Colorado on April 20.

Reds: Votto gives bat, jersey to 6-year-old cancer patient
CINCINNATI -- A young cancer patient got quite a souvenir when Reds star Joey Votto hit a home run. A couple of them, in fact.

After Votto rounded the bases in the seventh inning during a 7-2 win over the Mets on Thursday, he waved to 6-year-old Walter Herbert , who was sitting in the front row near the Cincinnati dugout and wearing a blue shirt that said: "BE KIND."

Votto high-fived the boy, then gave him a bat and a red No. 19 jersey while the game went on.

"We did not expect that," Walter's mom, Emily, said in an interview with The Associated Press after the game. "We thought he'd say hi when he recognized him. We were very surprised he went all out."

Votto declined to talk about his gesture after the game. Told that the family was thrilled, Votto said, "Well, that's what's important."