Nick Pivetta makes his third start of the season Wednesday night as the Phillies wrap things up with the Nationals.
The Phils face each division opponent 19 times this season, and 12 of their head-to-head matchups with the Nats come in their first 75 games.
When: 7:05 p.m. ET — Pregame Live starts at 6:30 Where: NBC Sports Philadelphia+ and streaming live on NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app
Big start for Pivetta
There was plenty of hype surrounding Pivetta heading into the season. He had strong peripheral numbers last season and an even stronger showing in spring training. There were a couple starts in Clearwater when Pivetta's fastball touched 98 and 99 mph.
Well, the spring radar guns may have been juiced. Pivetta's fastball averaged 95.4 mph in his first start but was down to 93.8 in his last start Friday against the Twins.
Pivetta has allowed 17 hits in 9⅔ innings. The Phillies scored 18 runs to win both games but they won't be able to do that consistently. There will be more than a few starts from Pivetta this season when the Phillies need him to deliver a quality start to have a good chance to win. Tonight, they could really use at least six innings from him.
Pivetta has just been missing spots. He's thrown 20 pitches middle-middle, middle-high or middle-low compared to just 10 from Zach Eflin. Few pitchers in the era of velocity can get away with a poorly located heater, especially when the pitcher's fastball speed is in the 93 mph range.
This Nationals team has hit Pivetta around in the past. Anthony Rendon is 6 for 12 with three homers and a double. Ryan Zimmerman is 5 for 9 with a homer and a double. Juan Soto is 3 for 7 with a homer and a walk.
Soto ... such a pain
Rendon and Soto are a nightmare for opposing pitchers. Rendon covers so much of the plate, possessing the ability to hit for a high average, hit 30 homers and uses both gaps. Soto is an incredibly disciplined hitter, not just for a 20-year-old but for a major-leaguer, period.
Aaron Nola has had problems getting through the 3-4 spots in the Nats' order. He won't be the only pitcher to experience those pains this season.
Then there's Victor Robles, who is certainly too talented to stay in the nine-hole for much longer. With his hot bat there, it gives a team one more thing to worry about at the bottom of the order.
Realmuto heating up
J.T. Realmuto singled three times on Tuesday night to raise his batting line to .257/.357/.371. The power hasn't yet surfaced but the Phillies are confident it will. The hope is that Realmuto heats up while Rhys Hoskins is still seeing the ball as well as he is right now, giving the Phillies an even more potent 1 through 5.
In his customary eight-spot, Maikel Franco had another strong night at the plate Tuesday, going 2 for 5 with a 426-foot home run and a laced single up the middle off Stephen Strasburg, then a 395-foot flyout to the center field wall a few innings later. Good to see him have a quality night at the plate after going 0 for 4 with a few weak at-bats the previous night.
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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?
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."