Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta could cause some (good) problems this year

Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta could cause some (good) problems this year

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Ask anyone in the Phillies organization which player is most poised for a big leap forward this season and the name Nick Pivetta leaps off the tongue like a 98-mph fastball.

“I would be inclined to believe that also,” a veteran scout from another club said after watching Pivetta strike out eight Detroit Tigers in five innings on Wednesday.

“Both of his breaking balls are good and the fastball had lots of hop today. He used his curveball to finish guys. It was fun to watch. I hadn’t seen him in a while. He’s gotten better. He’s going to cause some problems for teams.”

Pivetta, who turned 26 last month, was acquired from Washington for Jonathan Papelbon in a rebuild trade in July 2015. He has made 58 starts and pitched 297 innings for the Phils the last two years. Though he went 7-14 with a 4.77 ERA last year, he finished fifth in the NL with 10.32 strikeouts per nine innings. The Phillies’ analytics department has collected other statistical evidence that suggests the right-hander is ready for a breakout season. For instance, he had a FIP (fielding-independent pitching) of 3.75 last season. That ranked 24th among big-league starters.

So, what does Pivetta think of the widely held belief that his talent and experience are ready to come together and produce something special?

“I think with me, it’s about ignoring the white noise,” he said. “I still have a job to do and a long ways to go.”

He did acknowledge that, “I feel like I’ve grown as a pitcher. I’m just working on doing it over and over again.”

Pivetta did not have his crispest fastball of the spring Wednesday and he still touched 98 mph. He averaged 94-95 mph. He allowed a solo homer on a hanging slider to Josh Harrison, but threw a number of other excellent breaking balls.

“There were a couple of notable at-bats where he was pretty much untouchable,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “His ceiling is really, really high and, obviously, the stuff is on par with anybody in the league. As we sat and watched the game today, one of the things we kept saying was, ‘That’s A-plus, elite stuff.’ We’ve known that for some time and he is starting to harness it a little bit.”

Kapler mentioned the importance of focus and concentration in Pivetta’s bid to take his game to another level.

“And if he gets to that level of focus for six or seven innings, we have as good a starter as any in the league,” Kapler said.

The manager then confirmed his confidence in Pivetta by announcing that he will slot the pitcher second in the rotation behind Aaron Nola.

So it will be Nola, Pivetta and Jake Arrieta in the season-opening series against the Braves.

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Have any Phillies considered opting out of MLB season after Yoenis Cespedes, Lorenzo Cain, Francisco Liriano?

Have any Phillies considered opting out of MLB season after Yoenis Cespedes, Lorenzo Cain, Francisco Liriano?

Left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano, a surprise cut by the Phillies days before the regular season began on July 24, has opted out of the 2020 MLB season, according to Robert Murray.

The 36-year-old Liriano looked poised to win an important spot in the Phillies' thin bullpen but was granted his release on July 18. The Phillies cited a desire to look at younger arms, though there also appeared to be financial matters at play regarding guaranteed money in this altered 60-game season.

Even at 36, Liriano could still have been a capable left-handed specialist in someone's bullpen this season. According to Murray, Liriano had multiple guaranteed offers but decided not to play.

The timing of his opt-out comes the same weekend that Brewers centerfielder Lorenzo Cain opted out of the 2020 season. The Brewers-Cardinals series has been postponed all weekend as numerous Cardinals have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

The Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes also opted out Sunday after no-showing his team’s game against the Braves. He went 5 for 31 with two homers the first week of the season. The Phillies and Mets are set to meet 10 times, the first series coming in mid-August at Citizens Bank Park with the other seven games in September.

The Phillies had all seven of their games postponed this week. They're set to make up all four against the Yankees this Monday through Thursday, and they could make up the Blue Jays series later in the season with doubleheaders when the teams meet Sept. 18-20.

Asked over the weekend if he knew of any Phillies players considering opting out, manager Joe Girardi said this:

"No, that has not happened in our clubhouse. The chatter I hear is guys saying, 'Let's go, we're ready to go, let's go.' That's the chatter I've heard so far. And again, if a player chooses to opt out, I fully support him because playing this game is hard enough and if your mind has concerns in other places, it's really gonna be hard."

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Jake Arrieta ready to face Yankees on 357 days rest — sort of

Jake Arrieta ready to face Yankees on 357 days rest — sort of

Eight days shy of a year after his last big-league start, Jake Arrieta gets the ball for the Phillies in Yankee Stadium on Monday night.

Arrieta will oppose Yankees ace Gerrit Cole as the Phillies restart their season eight days after their last game.

Since his last start, August 11, 2019 in San Francisco, Arrieta has had elbow surgery, gone through a complete rehab, pitched in spring training, endured a shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ramped up during July summer camp and watched his team play three games then shut down again after the Miami Marlins suffered an outbreak of the virus last weekend at Citizens Bank Park.

With the ballpark closed much of the week, Arrieta and teammate Tommy Hunter found a field in South Jersey and kept their arms loose. Arrieta revved his engines in a workout at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday and believes he can throw 85-plus pitches in his long-awaited season debut Monday night.

"It feels great to finally have a start lined up," he said. "It's been frustrating, but at the same time, I haven't been dwelling on that too much because we are all in a really tough situation having to deal with so many different factors that have kind of derailed the beginning of our season. We knew these were going to be tough times and we're doing the best we can to stay ready.

"I've thrown in a few (simulated) games, I've thrown a bunch of bullpens, extended bullpens to keep the pitch count pretty high. But it's really tough to do unless you're in real-game situations. But I'm in a good spot. I'm going to be able to give my team what we need. I'm really looking forward to getting into a real game finally.

"Physically, I feel pretty close to midseason form as far as the body. There's really no aches and pains, which is something you're accustomed to near midseason. So the body feels pretty fresh, and the feel of all my stuff is there."

The Phillies have yet to announce who will follow Arrieta in the rotation. As if the Phils haven't been through enough with seven postponements, bad weather is steaming up the coast from the south and that could cause more problems with scheduling. Even if Mother Nature cooperates, the Phillies would have to play 57 games in 56 days to play their full 60-game season.

"These are weird times as you know," Arrieta said. "Other teams have been able to play more games than us and haven't been affected schedule-wise as much as we have, but we're not going to complain about it. We can't make any excuses. 

"It would seem that we are at a disadvantage, not being able to play pretty much every day like we're accustomed to. But if you lean too much on that, it could creep into your mind too heavily and could most certainly affect your performance."

The season is just 11 days old and already 33 games around Major League Baseball have been postponed because of COVID-19 concerns. Nonetheless, MLB and the players union remain committed to pushing on with the 60-game season. But given all these starts, stops and postponements, one has to wonder if the season can be pulled off. One has to wonder if there will be a breaking point for the players or the league if the postponements continue to mount.

"I think that we're a ways away from that, based on all the knowledge and the information that I've gathered through the union and through MLB," Arrieta said. "MLB wants to do everything in their power to get this season completed and we do as well. We're committed to doing that.

"I want to see the postseason happen and not have to shut this thing down for good. That would be bad for a lot of reasons. The fans want to see baseball. We want to play. We're going to follow protocols and do everything we can to make sure that happens."

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