PITTSBURGH — Nick Pivetta is going to the bullpen and though he accepts the move, he doesn’t seem particularly thrilled about it. That much was clear by the series of curt responses he offered to reporters’ questions before Friday night’s game against the Pirates.
“They had their explanation and I’m in the bullpen,” he said. “That’s all I have to say.
“It’s their decision. I’m here to support the 25 guys in this room and do the best I can to win baseball games for this team, for the players in this room.”
Pivetta was moved to the bullpen to accommodate Drew Smyly. The Phillies have an agreement to sign the free-agent left-hander, pending the outcome of a review of medicals that was still ongoing late Friday afternoon.
The deal is expected to get finalized. In fact, manager Gabe Kapler spoke as if it was a slam dunk and Smyly was said to already be in Pittsburgh waiting to officially sign.
Kapler said Smyly would start Sunday against the Pirates. That start was scheduled to go to Vince Velasquez. It had been widely assumed that Velasquez would go back to the bullpen, where he showed some flashes of success in late May and June. But Kapler said Velasquez would stay in the rotation for now and start Wednesday in Detroit. Pivetta was to be available in relief Friday night.
“Yes,” Pivetta said when asked if he was surprised by the move.
Only one of his 72 major-league appearances has been in relief. That came last year against Washington in a 13-inning game. He blew away the Nationals hitters for one inning with 19 pitches, 11 of which were strikes. He hit 98 mph on the gun. The performance still resonates with some in the organization.
Will moving to the bullpen be a difficult adjustment for Pivetta?
“I’m a pitcher,” he said. “Learn how to adapt quickly.
“I’ve always wanted to be a starter. That’s who I am, but like I said there are 25 men in this room and I’m playing for them, not for myself. I’m playing for these guys in this room because we want to hold the World Series trophy at the end of the year and I’m focused on helping these men compete and win baseball games.”
It has been a disappointing season for Pivetta. He came out of spring training as everyone’s pick to click this season and was awarded with the second start of the season. He made four starts, was sent to Triple A, returned with some success, but has recently struggled again. He has a 5.74 ERA in 13 starts. He is walking 3.3 batters per nine innings, up from 2.8 last year, and striking out just 7.6 per nine, down from 10.3 last year.
Smyly, who missed the last two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery, had a 8.42 ERA in 51 1/3 innings with Texas earlier this season. The Rangers released him and he spent time with Milwaukee’s Triple A team before asking for his release on Thursday. The pitching-needy Phillies quickly pursued him not as a sure-thing contributor but more as a take-a-chance-and-see-what-happens guy. The Phils have little financial risk as Smyly is making the pro-rated major-league minimum of $550,000.
Kapler explained the Phils’ decision to send Pivetta to the bullpen instead of Velasquez.
“The first (reason) is I think Vince has made some strides in the rotation recently,” Kapler said. “The second is we have a pretty good sample of both Nick and Vince in the starting rotation and we had a little look at what Vince looks like out of the bullpen. What we don’t have is a real look at how Nick looks in the bullpen. We are hurting for right-handed leverage arms right now in the ‘pen and I’m not saying we’re prioritizing what’s happening in the bullpen, but all things considered, we’re looking at it from every angle, and it looked like the right decision for the Phillies and both pitchers individually.
“I think a good precedent is probably what happened with Vince. Vince was in the bullpen for a little bit and it turned out that we needed him in the rotation. He popped back in the rotation. We’ll see how Nick looks out of the bullpen and we’ll see how Vince continues to develop in the rotation. We’ll see how Smyly looks and we’ll make decisions when they’re appropriate.”
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