Phillies

Humbled by demotion to minors, Nick Pivetta gives Phillies (and himself) something to feel good about in return to majors

Humbled by demotion to minors, Nick Pivetta gives Phillies (and himself) something to feel good about in return to majors

It’s a 64-mile drive from Philadelphia to Allentown. Nick Pivetta knows that because he spent the last five weeks making the drive. He had come out of spring training in Clearwater as the Phillies’ No. 2 starter and everybody’s pick to click as baseball’s breakout pitcher of the year only to be demoted to Triple A after four poor starts to open the season.

“I think anybody grows from something like that,” Pivetta said of his demotion. “We saw what happened with (Hector) Neris last year and with me, I had some time down there, time to collect my thoughts, a lot of driving, a lot of different stuff.

“It was my goal to come back here and just compete and give this team a chance to win and that's what I focused on instead of putting pressure on myself.”

Pivetta, 26, returned to the Phillies’ rotation on Tuesday night and played a big role in the team’s 4-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in rainy conditions at Citizens Bank Park (see observations). After an inauspicious beginning in which he allowed three runs on two homers and a hit batsman within the first four batters of the game, the big right-hander proceeded to retire 10 straight on his way to giving his club five innings of three-run ball. Pivetta chipped in with an important hit at the plate as the Phils scored twice in the third and twice in the fourth to come back from a 3-0 deficit and take the lead. The bullpen locked it down and the Phils improve to 32-22 overall and 19-10 at home.

Bryce Harper and Cesar Hernandez had the big hits for the Phillies and the Dominican trio of Edgar Garcia, Seranthony Dominguez and Hector Neris pitched four scoreless innings to protect the lead.

But the game might have been out of reach if Pivetta hadn't saved himself after that poor first inning.

“Nick is the story of the game,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “That was a real gutsy performance in sup-optimal conditions. We always say, ‘Who can be toughest in those kind of conditions?’ I thought Nick was pretty gutsy in those conditions. It wasn't perfect. There was some falling behind (in counts) at times, but he really showed up when he needed to in the most important moments.”

Did Pivetta’s ability to stop the damage after the first inning and rebound over the next four innings earn him another start this weekend in Dodger Stadium?

One would think yes.

But Kapler would not commit.

“That's something that we're going to discuss,” he said. “We're not quite there yet.”

Pivetta expects to start for the Phillies in five days.

“Yes, I do,” he said. “I want to start again in five days and I want to be here for the rest of the year.”

There was something a little different about Pivetta as he spoke with reporters after the game.

He seemed to speak a little more softly than in the past. Frankly, he seemed a little humbled by his trip to the minors.

“It was just nice being back in here, being with the guys,” he said. “It felt normal again, felt good. Being able to do that and go out and do what I did tonight, there were a lot of positive things to end off of and take into my next start.

“I think everybody puts pressure on themselves. I might have put a little more than I probably should have (early in the season), but that's just growing as a player and proving that you can get through those moments. I feel like I did it tonight.”

The biggest thing he learned in Triple A?

“I think it kind of showed in a way tonight,” Pivetta said. “When I got in some trouble, bouncing back, competing, making pitches when I really needed to because I knew I could get out of it based on my stuff.”

So maybe this was a double win for the Phillies. A win on the scoreboard and win for Pivetta’s confidence, one that could keep paying dividends. Time will tell. 

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Phillies Talk podcast: Will there be baseball or not? 50 games would be lame

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Phillies Talk podcast: Will there be baseball or not? 50 games would be lame

Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman break down potential compromises between MLB players and owners to get a deal done and baseball back on our screens.

• Gut-feelings/educated guesses: Will there be a 2020 MLB season?

• How can these sides stop circling around each other and find a compromise?

• Ideas for a pay structure.

• What would a 50-game or 60-game season look like schedule-wise?

• Phillies and other clubs hemorrhaging money right now.

• Memories from next week's classic Phillies-Dodgers NLCS re-air.

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5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

We've taken many strolls down Memory Lane during baseball's shutdown, but maybe not one as sad and ugly as this one.

Or, frankly, as humorous.

We're nearing the five-year anniversary of the low point of one of the most dreadful seasons in Phillies history.

Remember 2015? Ninety-nine (bleeping) losses. A season so bad it made Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg run away and hide.

Remember June 16 in Baltimore, the night that sorry season went from bad to completely off the hook?

Literally.

Jeff Francoeur remembers.

And not only because his left butt cheek hurt so much when it was all over.

Truth be told, even though the Phillies lost by the embarrassing score of 19-3 to the Orioles that night to complete their worst road trip in 132 years — yes, 132 — and even though the pitching coach and the team's star player almost dropped the gloves on the mound, Francoeur had a blast.

And he let that be known in the dugout after the seventh inning.

"I told the guys, 'Hey, I'm the only one to put up a donut tonight," the likable former Phillie recalled with a laugh on our Phillies Talk podcast recently. "It was a horrible road trip, the end of a bad time, yet it was kind of funny how it was able to play out. I still laugh when I think about it."

Francoeur spent a dozen years roaming the outfield for eight different big-league teams. Like many top baseball-playing athletes, he pitched in high school and dreamed of taking the mound just one time in the majors.

He was a reserve player during his one season in Philadelphia and more than once in that dismal campaign had reminded skipper Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure that he was available for bullpen duty if the team was having a particularly bad night at the office.

"We lost quite a few games in blowout fashion that year, so I was always kind of begging, 'Let me go in the game, let me go in the game,'" Francoeur recalled. "Ryno, to his defense, and I thought it was great, he never really wanted position players to pitch. He'd say, 'We've got enough arms to cover it.'"

But on June 16, 2015, as his team was on its way to completing an 0-8 road trip and his time as Phillies manager was nearing an end, Sandberg was forced to ditch his policy of not using position players on the hill. Jerome Williams had gotten torched and injured in the first inning and the Phillies had rolled through three relievers in the first six innings. 

In the fifth inning, Sandberg sidled up to Francoeur in the dugout.

"You still volunteering?" the manager asked.

"Absolutely!" the wannabe pitcher exclaimed.

As a player, Francoeur had a personal policy of putting his phone away and not checking it when he arrived at the ballpark for his workday. But on this night, he broke his own rule. After learning from Sandberg that he would pitch the seventh inning, he tiptoed into the clubhouse, pulled out his phone and called his wife, Catie, who was watching the game back in Philadelphia.

Catie, who knew her husband would never be near his phone at the ballpark, saw the number pop up and answered the phone in a panic.

"Don't worry," Jeff whispered. "Call my parents, get the DVR ready, I'm coming in the game to pitch."

Francoeur headed to the bullpen in the top of the seventh to warm up. Though he had pitched in high school and once in Triple A, this was different.

"My heart was pounding a mile a minute," he said.

He entered the game in the bottom of the inning. It was hardly a high leverage situation. The Phils trailed by a footballish score of 17-3. The Orioles' line score to that point looked like this: 6 3 3 1 1 3.

So, of course, Francoeur, throwing in the low 90s, had a 1-2-3 inning, the Phillies' first and only one of the night.

Looking for another quick inning, Sandberg sent Francoeur out for the eighth. That's when things went off the hook. Literally. Francoeur gave up a homer to Ryan Flaherty, the Orioles' eighth bomb of the game, then had trouble throwing strikes. He hit a batter. Walked a couple. His pitch count was soaring. Sandberg and McClure wanted to get someone up in the bullpen but they couldn't because the bullpen phone was off the hook. It wasn't until someone in the 'pen noticed McClure waving a white flag that the phone was put back on the hook.

By this time, Francoeur was laboring on the mound and Chase Utley was getting pissed. McClure went to the mound and was joined there by the entire infield. Utley, in no uncertain words, expressed his displeasure for what was going on and the way Francoeur was being pushed. Francoeur said he had one more hitter in him. He got that hitter and the inning — and the ordeal — mercifully ended with two runs in.

Five years later, the image of Utley giving McClure an earful is still fresh.

Was it as tense as it looked?

"Oh, it was worse than that," Francoeur said. "There were probably seven F-bombs in it. I thought those two were about to go right there on the mound. I said, 'This is all we need.' I remember I looked at Chase and thanked him for coming to my defense. I looked at Bob and I said, 'Look, this is my last hitter here,' and luckily, somehow, I got out of that inning. I still don't know how, but I did.

"To Bob's defense, he knew it. He said, 'We've let this get out of control.' But at that point, I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself right there on the mound at Camden Yards. My first inning, that was phenomenal. The eighth inning, I had that coming and I take full responsibility for it."

The clubhouse was tense after that loss, the Phillies' 20th in a 25-game stretch. There were rumblings that big changes were coming, that Andy MacPhail was about to be hired as club president — and, indeed, he was. Sandberg called the loss "ugly," and added, "I almost don't know what to say." McClure denied any friction with Utley. Utley didn't make himself available to reporters after the game.

Francoeur, an upbeat, positive soul, was all of that after the game. His arm was fine. He said he had no issues with anyone and said the Phillies owed the Orioles an ass-whuppin' the next night in Philadelphia.

The Phillies lost that game, too.

Nine days later, Sandberg, worn down by the losing, resigned from the job.

Francoeur played out the rest of the season with the Phillies and was passionate about the team avoiding 100 losses. That is still one of his takeaways from the season. That and the sore left butt cheek.

"Two hours after the game, my left butt cheek was killing me from landing 48 times," he said with a laugh. "I could hardly even get off the train back in Philly.

"But I am the only one who put up a goose egg that night."

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