nick pivetta

Phillies committed to rebuild, won't go for quick fixes

Phillies committed to rebuild, won't go for quick fixes

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies upgraded their bullpen this winter with the signings of Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter.

They bettered their offense with the signing of Carlos Santana, the injection of J.P. Crawford’s on-base percentage. And a full season of Rhys Hoskins won’t hurt.

The glaring area of need for this team remains the starting pitching rotation.

The team added to its inventory of starters when it signed veteran right-hander Drew Hutchison to a minor-league contract on Thursday. The former Toronto Blue Jay will join a long list of candidates to win a spot at the back end of the rotation.

“It’s a good depth move for us but it doesn't end our search for additional starting pitching,” general manager Matt Klentak said.

Klentak had been looking to add starting pitching all winter. There is enough of it available as Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn and others remain on the slow-moving free-agent market.

Arrieta is a former National League Cy Young award winner, but the time does not seem right for this rebuilding team to make a run at him. The right-hander will pitch at 32 this season and is said to be seeking a deal of six years or more. Length of contract is a serious consideration for this team. When Santana hit the free-agent market in November, he was said to be seeking a six- or seven-year deal. The Phils had no stomach for that. When he came down to three years, they pounced.

If the (length of) contract demands of the remaining free agents come down, the Phillies could add another pitcher in the coming weeks. If they don’t, Klentak is comfortable with the group that has been assembled.

“We’re open to adding a starter if it makes sense for us, but even if we don’t, we are confident that this starting pitching group is going to take a step forward because they are really talented and they’re healthy,” Klentak said. “We’re watching them here and they look great.

“The starting pitching market being as slow to develop as it has been has allowed us to get to Clearwater and watch our guys and evaluate them and see the look in their eye and see the electricity in their pitches and regain that confidence in our young starting pitching.”

Aaron Nola lines up to start on opening day. Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez will be in the rotation. Nick Pivetta seems to have a good shot after making 25 starts last season. Ben Lively made a good showing last year. He’s a tough competitor and will make a strong run at winning a spot, but so will Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Mark Leiter, Tom Eshelman and Hutchison.

As much as new manager Gabe Kapler would love a top starter dropped in his lap, he, like his bosses, remains committed to the development process that has gone hand in hand with this rebuild.

“You’re always looking to upgrade,” he said. “But there has to be a balance. If you bring in someone, a young arm might not get an opportunity.”

Not long ago, the Phillies had some of the top payrolls in the game. From 2012 to 2014, they spent over a half-billion on payroll (only the Yankees and Dodgers spent more in the time) and did not make the playoffs in any of those seasons. That led to the current rebuild, which has been marked by disciplined roster construction.

“We’re open to anything,” Klentak said. “But the dollars and the years and the player fit would have to be right. We’re not going to compromise on our evaluation and where we see the franchise right now. We’re not going to do something that doesn’t make sense for this organization."

That will continue.

“We’ve gone through this rebuild and acknowledged that it was going to be painful for a few years," Klentak said. "It has been. We’re not going to do anything to compromise the future of that. We’re going to continue to do this right. If there’s something that makes sense, I know the owners will support it economically. It’s up to us to bring that to them if we see fit. And if we don’t, we’re excited about the group we have here. We have ways we think we’re going to help this group continue to improve. Either way, it’s going to be a fun year.”

Today's lineup: Young guns on display in Pete Mackanin's finale

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Today's lineup: Young guns on display in Pete Mackanin's finale

Sunday's game against the Mets will be the Phillies' last one of 2017 and Pete Mackanin's last one as manager of the team.

After a late-season surge pulled the Phillies close to .500 in the second half (36-38), the organization decided to part ways Friday with the 66-year-old Mackanin. Now, the Phillies will be playing for pride and their manager in the 2017 season finale.

Nick Pivetta (7-10, 6.26) will be leading the Phils on the mound in the series rubber match.

J.P. Crawford, playing shortstop, moves to the back of the lineup after batting second Saturday, while Odubel Herrera will move up and bat second.

Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr all dot the lineup Sunday as the Phils could be giving a glimpse of what the 2018 lineup could look like.

The only young star not playing is Jorge Alfaro, who caught last night's game. Andrew Knapp gets the nod Sunday to catch Pivetta.

Tommy Joseph and Freddy Galvis are not in the lineup.

The Phillies will face Noah Syndergaard (1-2, 3.18), who will throw only 20-25 pitches in his second start after missing most of the season with a lat muscle injury.

Both teams' lineups for the season finale can be found below:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Aaron Altherr, LF
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Nick Williams, RF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. Andrew Knapp, C
8. J.P. Crawford, SS
9. Nick Pivetta, SP

Mets
1. Nori Aoki, RF
2. Phillip Evans, 3B
3. Brandon Nimmo, CF
4. Dominic Smith, 1B
5. Tomas Nido, C
6. Amed Rosario, SS
7. Matt Reynolds, LF
8. Gavin Cecchini, 2B
9. Noah Syndergaard, SP

Nick Pivetta continues to build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

Nick Pivetta continues to build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies and Atlanta Braves are both rebuilding teams that have looked to acquire as much pitching as possible over the last few seasons.

The Phillies added Nick Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington two years ago. The Braves picked up Luiz Gohara from Seattle back in January.

If both pitchers continue to develop, there's a chance they could face each other in a National League division race someday. 

On Sunday, they squared off in a battle of teams playing out the string, but the intensity of the matchup was good. That can happen in the penultimate weekend of the season. After all, impressions can be made right up until the final pitch of the season. Players are always auditioning, especially rookies hoping to win spots next season.

Pivetta, 24, made a very nice showing. He out-pitched Gohara in helping the Phillies salvage one game of the three-game series against the Braves with a 2-0 win (see observations).

Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr keyed a just-enough Phillies' offense with a solo homer and an RBI double and the bullpen triumvirate of Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris combined for three scoreless innings to seal the shutout.

Pivetta pitched six shutout innings, walked one and struck out four. He gave up five hits. It's been an up-and-down season for the rookie right-hander. There's been a lot of on-the-job training and a few bruisings. He is 7-10 with a 6.26 ERA in 25 starts. He has allowed just two runs in 12 innings over his last two starts, so he's finishing the season on a high note.

"The key to his outing today was that he was throwing all his pitches for strikes," manager Pete Mackanin said. "His breaking ball and his changeup, he really did a good job with them, throwing them ahead in the count and behind in the count, so that was key.

"This is the place to learn. You can have a lot of success in the minor leagues but when you get up here it's a different animal. The best place to learn is at the big-league level and take your lumps and learn from them. Now, if you have too many guys like that you don’t win a lot of games, so you can afford to have one or maybe two guys in the rotation that are feeling their way through it, but not more than that."

Forced to the majors by injuries in the rotation early in the season, Pivetta has often talked about the learning experience his first year in the majors has been.

He was happy to talk about getting a victory Sunday.

"It's been nice," he said. "I've settled down a little the last two starts. Today, I just tried to do the right things — get ahead of hitters. And the guys played great defense behind me.

"Even when I had runners on base, I was able to attack the hitters the way I wanted and I didn't put too much pressure on myself."

That's not always easy for a rookie pitcher in a close game. Pivetta's ability to stay cool and pitch around baserunners in the fifth and sixth innings was a sign of his improvement. He will have one more start before the season ends and is looking to build on two good ones and go into the offseason with a healthy dose of confidence. He will be a candidate for a spot in the rotation next spring.

Sunday's victory left the Phillies at 62-94. They need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses. That once seemed to be a certainty, but they have played well since the All-Star break, recording a 33-36 record since then. They were 29-58 before the break.

Young players such as Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins have come up from the minors and given the Phils a lift in recent weeks. The bullpen has also improved with Ramos, Morgan, Neris and Luis Garcia (before Saturday night) pitching well. Morgan pitched a scoreless eighth inning Sunday. He has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Neris is 18 for 18 in save opportunities since June 28.

The only run that the Phils scored against Gohara came in the fifth when Franco smacked a first-pitch changeup into the left-field seats for his 21st homer. The pitch was on the middle-half of the plate, Franco's happy zone.

Franco is hitting .308 with three homers and seven RBIs since J.P. Crawford came up and applied a little competitive heat.

Franco said that's coincidence, that he's focused only on what he needs to do to get better.

"I think when those young guys come up it always creates an energy spurt in everybody," Mackanin said. "For whatever reason, if Maikel is having a good September, I hope it carries through for five or six months next year. One month does not a good year make. Hopefully, he'll have a better approach and he's going to be more successful."