With all due respect to Nick Pivetta, he probably shouldn't start another game for the Phillies for quite a while.
Not because the door has definitively slammed shut on his being an effective starting pitcher, but because he has taken so well to this bullpen role.
Pivetta notched the first save of his professional career — majors or minors — in the Phillies' 3-2 win Saturday night. He went two innings and threw 42 pitches, the most by any Phillie in a save in 15 years.
There was uncertainty when the Phillies arrived at the ballpark Saturday whether or not Pivetta was available. He had pitched Friday night, and since he's so new to this relief role, the Phillies want to ease him in by not having him pitch back-to-back games.
He did more than go back-to-back. He threw and threw and threw Saturday night until the final strikeout was recorded with two men on base in the ninth inning.
"He got hype tonight," said Aaron Nola, who was masterful again, allowing one run on three hits and striking out 10 over seven innings.
"His intensity has shot way up. His fastball is nasty, his curveball's nasty, he's just getting after it. He shut the door tonight with overpowering stuff."
In six relief appearances, Pivetta has pitched 11⅔ innings. That in itself shows the value he can have in a bullpen. He can not only pitch high-leverage innings but he can also take down multiple innings at a time. In those 11⅔ innings, he has a 2.31 ERA, 15 strikeouts and two walks.
"He seems a little bit more vocal," said Rhys Hoskins, who hit a 406-foot home run one pitch after Bryce Harper hit a 406-foot home run of his own. "I think it's good as a reliever, I think you have to have a little bit of that on the mound. It's just different as a starter, you're trying to elongate your outing, but as a reliever, you can go balls to the wall as soon as you get in there.
"It's cool to see him have some success right away. Huge outs tonight."
The Phillies improved to 16-8 in Nola's 24 starts this season. They are 42-44 when anyone else starts. That is a problem — until or unless the Phillies can find a way to clone Nola — but it was at least corrected a bit over the last three weeks with the acquisitions of Jason Vargas, who pitched Friday, and Drew Smyly, who pitches Sunday's series finale.
The Phillies will not have Pivetta to close out a late lead on Sunday but they will have Hector Neris back. Neris has completed his three-game suspension for intentionally throwing at a Dodger in mid-July.
The Phillies were fortunate to be able to ride Nola and Pivetta to all 27 outs because they were shorthanded in the bullpen. Neris was out, Zach Eflin was unavailable after pitching two innings Friday, and the Phillies wanted to avoid using Blake Parker, Jose Alvarez and Juan Nicasio after all three were needed Thursday and Friday.
The Phils also appeared to be playing shorthanded on the bench, though manager Gabe Kapler said otherwise after the game. Roman Quinn was not used after playing all 15 innings and pitching two on Friday night. Certainly, if Quinn was available it would have made sense to use him as a defensive replacement with the game on the line in the ninth inning. Corey Dickerson was not used either, despite a prime spot coming up midway through the game with two men on base and Sean Rodriguez at the plate against a righty. The White Sox had none of their three left-handed relievers warming at that point so Dickerson would have definitely faced a righty.
These were the kinds of decisions that go mostly ignored after a win but would have been talked to death if the Phillies lost.
They didn't, and now they can claim a series win Sunday when Smyly opposes right-hander Reynaldo Lopez, who has pitched extremely well in four starts since the All-Star break.
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