Nick Pivetta's struggles continue, but Gabe Kapler is sticking with the right-hander

Nick Pivetta's struggles continue, but Gabe Kapler is sticking with the right-hander


CINCINNATI — The Los Angeles Dodgers did the Phillies a favor on Friday when they beat the Atlanta Braves for a second straight night. The Braves’ loss opened the door for the Phillies to increase their lead in the National League East to 3½ games. Alas, the Phillies could not sneak through the door. They suffered a 6-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds as Nick Pivetta’s recent mound struggles continued (see first take).

Pivetta showed his typical electric stuff — he struck out 12 — but he paid a price for leaving a couple of balls over the plate. The one that hurt the most was a hanging, 1-2 slider to Mason Williams with two men on base and no outs in the fourth inning. Williams turned on the pitch and sent it over the right-field wall for a three-run home run and a 5-2 Reds’ lead. On a night when the Phils had just five hits through the first eight innings, that was enough offense for the Reds to snap the Phillies’ three-game winning streak.

Pivetta was pretty dejected after the game.

“I let the team down tonight,” he said. “I made a mistake on a 1-2 pitch, a hanging slider. That’s about it. It’s on me. I take full responsibility for that.”

Pivetta began the season as one of the Phillies’ top success stories. He recorded a 3.26 ERA in his first 11 starts. Over his last 10 starts, his ERA is 6.84.

“It’s just little things, finishing guys off, a hanging slider,” the right-hander said. “That’s not going to play here. I’ve just got to execute better in those counts and stick to what I know and do best and don’t make those mistakes.”

Despite Pivetta’s recent struggles, the Phillies don’t appear to be major players for a starting pitcher at the trade deadline. At least they don’t appear to be major players for a quick-fix starter. You can bet a team that values contractual control of a young player as much as the Phillies would have interest in a Jacob deGrom or a Michael Fulmer, but those are probably long shots.

The Phils had some interest in J.A. Happ, who went to the Yankees, but little interest in Cole Hamels, who went to the Cubs. General manager Matt Klentak is on record as saying he is wary of the price to acquire veteran starting pitching and would prefer to stay out of that market, and with depth at Triple A — Ranger Suarez, Enyel De Los Santos, Cole Irvin — he might be able to. In the midst of a pennant race, the Phillies simply need Pivetta to pitch better, and manager Gabe Kapler is confident that can happen.

“We’ve seen it this year,” Kapler said. “It’s not like we have to dream on something. We’ve seen stretches of dominance this year and we know it’s still in there because he’s had flashes of dominance in each game that he’s pitched. It’s not dreaming on something. It’s been there in our recent memory and it will be there in short order.

“Nick's performance is not a concern. I think each man in our five-man rotation gives us a great chance to win every single night. We all feel confident when we send Nick out to the mound and we will feel confident even in a pennant race.”

Kapler went on to say that Pivetta needed to become more skilled at limiting damage.

“With his swing-and-miss stuff, if he limits the damage, he’s a top-of-the-rotation starter,” Kapler said. “We still haven’t quite figured that out as a group. I think it’s all of our responsibility, not just Nick’s, but myself, our pitching group, our catchers and Nick himself to figure out how he can take off the way we know he can and the way we believe he can. We have a ton of confidence in him.”

Pivetta failed to limit damage in the decisive fourth inning. He allowed a single and a double to open the frame before Williams’ homer. After that, Pivetta struck out two of the next three batters to get out of the inning.

Pivetta did manage to go six innings so the Phillies did not have to blow out their bullpen. The Phils rallied for a two-out run in the top of the ninth inning and brought the go-ahead run to the plate before Rhys Hoskins grounded out to end the game.

The Phillies still lead the NL East by 2½ games over Atlanta. On Saturday, the Phils will add a new player, infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, acquired in a trade with the Mets. The Phils will have to make a roster move to accommodate Cabrera.

“He’ll play multiple positions for us,” Kapler said. “He's got the ability to move around the diamond a little bit, play some second, short and third base and we see him getting opportunities at each position.

“He's a dynamic offensive performer. Has been a dynamic offensive performer for quite some time. For me personally, I'm quite excited because I like the way he conducts an at-bat. He fits right in to our style of offense. He grinds pitchers down. He waits for a pitch to drive and he finds gaps and can hit the ball out of the ballpark. He adds another bat when he's in the lineup. When he comes off the bench to pinch-hit for us, we know he's going to give us a quality at-bat.”

Will Cabrera be in the starting lineup Saturday night?

“I have some work to do on that before I make any predictions,” Kapler said. “I'm excited to have the option, let's put it like that.”

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Phillies Talk podcast: Any early solutions for Phils' pitching staff?

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Phillies Talk podcast: Any early solutions for Phils' pitching staff?

Are there any early-season solutions to the Phillies' already glaring bullpen issue? Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman discussed that and more on the Phillies Talk podcast.

• Close deficits turning into insurmountable ones for the Phils.

• Is there anyone at Lehigh Valley Phillies can turn to for bullpen help?

• Spencer Howard time? How will Phils set up their pitching this week with the doubleheader?

• NL East already shaken up drastically by injuries and schedule changes.

• What Rhys Hoskins needs to work his way through.

• Could we soon see lineup changes if Phillies don't hit with RISP?

• Yankees could be a real threat for J.T. Realmuto.

Subscribe and rate the Phillies Talk podcast:
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Is Phillies top prospect Spencer Howard on the way? It sure feels like it

Is Phillies top prospect Spencer Howard on the way? It sure feels like it

It has long been a given that Spencer Howard would make his major league debut this season.

Maybe it will happen during the Phillies' coming homestand.

Big rain from Tropical Storm Isaias forced the postponement of Tuesday night's meeting between the Phillies and Yankees in the Bronx. Makeup dates are scarce in this shortened, 60-game season so the two teams will play the game as a part of a doubleheader in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Manager Joe Girardi said that Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler would be the starting pitchers in those two games. The first game starts at 4:05 p.m.

After Wednesday, the Phils will play 11 straight days, all at home, against the Yankees, Braves, Orioles and Mets.

Because of the doubleheader and the stack-up of games, the Phillies will need an extra starting pitcher in the coming days, perhaps Sunday against Atlanta. The Phils could reach into their bullpen and plug someone like Cole Irvin or Nick Pivetta into that start. Or they could reach down to their reserve camp in Lehigh Valley and bring up Howard. The 24-year-old right-hander is their top prospect and has impressed everyone from Bryce Harper to pitching coach Bryan Price.

"If this kid is the guy we think he is — and we do — then he's going to have a really nice future in Philadelphia," Price said in July. "I would really hope and expect to see him pitching here at some point in (2020) because he really needs the work and I think he's ready to compete at this level."

Maybe that future begins in the coming days. Girardi was noncommittal when asked about Howard's timetable on Monday, but you can bet he will discuss Howard with Price and front office officials during Tuesday's weather shut down.

Howard commands a four-pitch arsenal. His fastball approaches triple digits and his changeup and breaking ball are both top-notch. He has the potential to one day work at the top of a rotation.

Price has been reluctant to speak in those terms, at least as it relates to Howard's ceiling. He'd prefer to let Howard control the trajectory of his own career. But there's no doubt that the pitching coach is high on the young man.

"I stay away from (commenting on a pitcher's ceiling) and I'll tell you why," Price said. "Because when you start talking about assigning expectations, especially if you rank like No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 — we don't know what these guys are until they come up here and perform.

"We know that (Howard) would be a top-end prospect in any organization because he has power, he throws strikes, he's athletic, he has a really, really good changeup and breaking ball. The key component there is stuff with strikes, stuff with command. So the sky is the limit.

"In the same respect, you have to get to the big leagues and perform at this level before you define where you are: starter or reliever, No. 1 or No. 5, or somewhere in between. I'll reserve judgment on that and let him pitch his way wherever he gets to."

If Howard pitches well once he does arrive, he will put heat on the back end of the rotation, particularly Vince Velasquez. An effective Howard could push Velasquez to the bullpen. The Phils could benefit from Velasquez's power arm in the bullpen. The question remains: Would Velasquez embrace the role enough to succeed? That's an issue for another day. As it stands now, Velasquez would get a start on Thursday or Friday.

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