How patient can the win-now Phillies afford to be with struggling Nick Pivetta?

How patient can the win-now Phillies afford to be with struggling Nick Pivetta?

When the Phillies set up their pitching rotation coming into the season, they slotted Nick Pivetta in the No. 2 spot in front of Jake Arrieta, a veteran and former Cy Young Award winner. The stated reason for the alignment was that the Phillies’ third game of the season would be televised nationally, in prime time, and Arrieta had the experience to handle such a big-stage, bright-lights assignment.

It made some sense.

But that was only part of the Phillies’ thinking.

Pivetta has huge potential and it’s crucial that he reach it during this win-now season. Aligning him second in the rotation, behind ace Aaron Nola, was a show of faith that the organization believed what so many others around baseball believed: This was the year that the 26-year-old right-hander was going to put it all together and be a big difference-maker for the Phillies.

So far, Pivetta has yet to deliver on the club’s faith in him.

In three starts this season, he has a 9.45 ERA and has not pitched past the fifth inning. On Wednesday night, the Washington Nationals torched him for seven hits and seven runs in 3 2/3 innings. The Nats won in a rout, 15-1 (see observations), to take two of three in the series and afterward manager Gabe Kapler faced questions about how patient the team was willing to be with Pivetta.

“In order for us to meet expectations, we need better performances,” Kapler said in response to one of the questions.

Later in the postgame news conference, he was asked a second time how patient the team could afford to be with Pivetta.

“I don’t know,” Kapler said. “The answer to that question is probably pretty patient but I’m not sure exactly how to answer that question.”

On the one hand, it’s advisable to take a chill pill when it comes to Pivetta. After all, the season is just 11 games old and the Phillies are 7-4. Pivetta is simply too talented, too promising, to lose his spot in the rotation three starts into the season. Something could click in his next start and he could get on a roll before the leaves even return to the trees.

But on the other hand, Pivetta’s struggles are not new. Over his last 19 starts, dating to the end of June, he has a 6.16 ERA and he’s averaged less than five innings.

If these struggles continue, the Phillies will eventually have to make a change. They didn't invest in new talent all over the diamond, including the $330 million man in right field, to spin their wheels in development mode. Pivetta can be sent to the minors and the team does have starting pitching depth at Triple A. Beyond that, a trade is always possible.

It’s up to Pivetta to silence this talk. Soon.

“I'm better than that,” he said after the loss. “Guys expect me to be better than that. I need to be better for my teammates.”

The Phillies have lost two in a row for the first time this season. The Nationals outscored them 24-1 over the final 14 innings of the series. Washington took two of three and has won three of five against the Phils in the new season.

The Phils were never in the series finale. Pivetta needed 39 pitches to get through the first inning. He allowed three runs. He allowed three more in the fourth after a two-out walk.

“Tonight’s performance is not close to the greatness that Nick has the capabilities to achieve,” Kapler said.

The manager went on to mention Pivetta’s preparation and the intent with which he delivers pitches, particularly his offspeed stuff.

“It’s conviction and it’s attacking,” Kapler said. “I think he sometimes picks around the strike zone instead of really aggressively attacking hitters. It’s a mindset.”

Pivetta knows much is expected of him this season. And with the pressure mounting, he gets another chance to deliver Tuesday night against the Mets.

“Sometimes the game beats the (crap) out of you,” he said. “I just have to bounce back.”

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Larry Bowa recalls two special seasons with (almost unanimous) Hall of Famer Derek Jeter

Larry Bowa recalls two special seasons with (almost unanimous) Hall of Famer Derek Jeter

Larry Bowa asked a question Tuesday afternoon.

“You think he’ll be unanimous?”

Derek Jeter was a 14-time All-Star and a five-time World Series champion with the New York Yankees. He won a Rookie of the Year award, was a World Series MVP and finished in the top 10 in American League MVP voting eight times. He won five Gold Gloves at shortstop and finished his career with 3,465 hits. Only Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Tris Speaker had more.

We’re talking rare air here, folks.

We’re talking icon.

So, six hours before the official Hall of Fame announcement was to come down early Tuesday night, the question that Bowa posed wasn’t whether Jeter would make it through the doors of Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility – that was a slam-dunk, take-it-to-the-bank, lead-pipe cinch – it was would he be just the second player ever to be elected unanimously.

“He should be,” Bowa said.

The answer to Bowa’s question came soon enough.

No, Jeter did not make it into the Hall unanimously, as his great Yankee teammate Mariano Rivera did the year before. But he still received historic support as he sailed into Hardball Heaven on his first try.

Jeter appeared on 396 of the 397 ballots cast by voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Voters are encouraged but not required to make their ballots public. The identity of the one writer who did not vote for Jeter was not immediately known. That person will likely come forward at some point, not that it will matter a whole lot in the final analysis. The 99.7 percent of the vote that Jeter did receive is the highest ever for a position player.

Hard-hitting outfielder Larry Walker, an MVP and three-time National League batting champ, was also elected. He made it by six votes in his 10th and final year on the writers’ ballot.

Former Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling missed by 20 votes, but his 70 percent bodes well for future election. He needs to get to 75 percent of the vote in his final two years on the ballot.

Another former Phillie, third baseman Scott Rolen, received 35.3 percent of the vote in his third year on the ballot.

Bowa, the great former Phillies shortstop and manager, played 2,222 games at shortstop, seventh-most all time. Jimmy Rollins played 2,227 games at short, sixth-most all-time. Omar Vizquel ranks first on the list at 2,709 and Jeter is second at 2,674.

Bowa enjoyed an up-close look at Jeter’s greatness during the 2006 and 2007 seasons when he was third-base coach for the Yankees. Jeter still had another seven seasons to go in his career, but even at that point, Bowa knew he was looking at a Hall of Famer.

“He just had an aura about him that said, ‘If you want to be a big-leaguer, watch me,’ “ Bowa recalled. “It was that way in everything he did. He never sulked if he didn’t get any hits.

“In my two years there, I don’t think I ever saw him make a mental mistake. He was always well prepared. He was very coachable and open to advice. He never jogged. He always played the right way. In big situations with the game on the line, he wanted to be at the plate. And he produced.”

Bowa compared Jeter to a couple of players he managed with the Phillies, one a Hall of Famer, one a potential Hall of Famer.

“He reminded me of Jim Thome, the way he handled himself,” Bowa said. “Very humble guys. Both team-first. If it was the eighth inning and a guy led off with a double, you didn’t have to tell Jeter to get the ball to the right side and get him over to third.

“He was a little bit like Chase Utley. You wind him up in April, say good luck and have a good year, and at the end of year he’d have a great season. He could have played without any leader or manager. Incredible work ethic.”

Like any other player, Jeter could have an off day, though not often. Bowa recalled a time in 2007 when the Yankees played an awful game. 

“I think it was a Sunday game,” Bowa said. “It might have been the worst game I’d ever seen the Yankees play.”

The performance left manager Joe Torre quietly seething. He called the team together after the game.

“I’d never seen Joe angry before,” Bowa said. “He usually got with guys one-on-one in his office if he wasn’t happy and no one knew about it. But this time, we played so bad that he felt like he had to get everyone together.”

Torre didn’t go after the 25th man.

He went right for the heart – Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.

“He was all over them,” Bowa said. “It was the only time I ever saw Joe get on a guy like that. There was no swearing or anything like that, but he literally pointed them out and told them they were better than that and he expected more.”

The next day, Jeter was getting ready to do some early work with Bowa in the infield. Bowa asked him about what had gone down the day before.

“Jeter was completely accountable,” Bowa said. “He said he deserved it. That really showed me something. Here was a guy putting together a Hall of Fame career and he just got it. He didn’t take it personally.”

And he won’t take not being a unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame personally, either.

Ninety-nine-point-seven percent.

We’re still talking rare air here, folks.

“The guy was just solid, man,” Larry Bowa said. “So professional. Just a pleasure to watch. I’m really happy for him.” 

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Make that 2 buy-low bullpen moves for the Phillies

Make that 2 buy-low bullpen moves for the Phillies

Drew Storen wasn't the only reliever the Phillies added early this week.

The Phils also agreed to a minor-league deal with veteran right-hander Bud Norris, according to Robert Murray.

The Phillies worked out Norris late last season but did not sign him.

Norris last pitched in 2018 with the Cardinals. He was pretty effective, posting a 3.59 ERA in 57⅔ innings with 67 strikeouts. He saved 28 games.

Relievers are so volatile from year to year that it stands to reason one of Storen or Norris will recapture some success in 2020. The Phillies have seen quite clearly over the last two seasons that big relief contracts are a gamble. They paid David Robertson, Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek a combined $57 million and all three dealt with long-term injuries.

The big wild-card in the Phils' bullpen is Seranthony Dominguez, who missed most of last season with arm injuries but could be a much-needed and useful weapon if he can revert to his 2018 form.

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