Terrific since recall, there's still time for Nick Pivetta's breakout season

Terrific since recall, there's still time for Nick Pivetta's breakout season

Everybody is saying it.

Nick Pivetta is a different pitcher.

Those humbling five weeks back in Triple A changed him.

For the better.

The 26-year-old right-hander made it three straight impressive starts since returning from Triple A as he paced the Phillies’ 4-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday (see observations). 

Pivetta pitched the first complete game of his career. He walked none, struck out six and needed just 105 pitches to dispatch the Reds. The performance was quite different than his first four starts of the season. He averaged just 4 1/3 innings in those games and ended up in Lehigh Valley.

“Nick came out today and was the pitcher we all anticipated that he might be at the beginning of the season,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I think the experience of being back at Triple A was a humbling one for him. Since then, he’s done exactly what we’ve asked him to do — pound the strike zone with all his pitches. He’s forcing the opposition to put the ball in play and we’ve made plays behind him. That starts with throwing strikes.”

Since returning, Pivetta has given up just four runs in 20 innings over three starts. He has walked just two. He has not issued a walk in his last two starts, a span of 15 innings.

“I’m just focused more on each day, getting better, one pitch at a time, one inning at a time,” Pivetta said. “If I get ahead of myself, in the past it hasn’t gone my way. I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself.

“I think before, I was getting behind in counts. Now I’m getting ahead a little more. I’m able to throw my breaking ball for strikes and for balls when I need to, and also able to throw it later in hitter-friendly counts. I think that’s been key.”

Pivetta’s curveball has been brilliant in his last two starts. And his fastball has been as high as 96 mph. On Saturday, Pivetta got seven swing and misses on his curveball, three on his slider and five on his fastball. He did not let two hits and a run unravel him in the first inning. He retired 17 straight Reds after that and gave the bullpen a nice break.

“We needed that,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “Our bullpen definitely needed that. They’ve been tired. They’ve been worn out. Hector’s (Neris) been getting crushed down there. So it’s nice to get a win tonight and not have to use those guys.”

The NL East-leading Phillies have won four in a row. Jay Bruce has driven in 11 runs in those games.

“Oh, my goodness, he’s unbelievable,” Realmuto said. “You can make an argument he’s won at least four of those games for us. He’s been huge.”

Realmuto was asked to compare and contrast the early-season Pivetta from the now Pivetta.

“He’s just on the attack more,” Realmuto said. “He’s working with the same stuff. He’s just doing a great job of getting ahead of hitters and being able to put them away when he gets ahead.

“Early in the season, I feel like when he did get to two-strike counts he wasn’t executing down in the zone, he was leaving balls up a lot. Now when he gets two strikes, almost every breaking ball to the bottom of the zone or under it. That’s a huge difference for him, being able to get ahead and put hitters away.”

After the final out, first baseman Rhys Hoskins made sure to flip Pivetta the ball.

“He was definitely fired up,” Hoskins said. “I thought Gabe did a great job in letting him go back out there (for the ninth inning) and kind of instilling that confidence in him.”

Hoskins has seen a more confident Pivetta since the pitcher’s return from the minors.

“There's a lot more conviction with some of the pitches that he's throwing,” he said. “There's been an uptick in tempo and I think obviously that helps him. It helps us behind him. But I think it just kind of allows for a lot less thought, a lot less second-guessing. Him and J.T. have been really on the same page in executing the game plan that they talk about before the game. He's not getting in his own head and in his own way. The stuff's electric. Everybody knows that. Everybody has known that. You can see that as you watch him. He's just kind of letting the stuff play.”

Pivetta was everyone’s hot pick for breakout pitcher of the year coming out of spring training. He might have believed the hype a little too much and that landed him back in Triple A. It’s doubtful he’ll get too comfortable this time around.

“He’s reached down deep and said, 'This is the time to compete,'“ Kapler said. “I think he understands he needs to keep producing and keep winning to maintain his stronghold on his spot in the rotation. That's a motivating force for him. He deserves all the credit for what he’s doing. It’s all Nick.”

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These ugly Cowboys-looking Phillies hats have Philly fans freaking out

These ugly Cowboys-looking Phillies hats have Philly fans freaking out

Remember back on Phillies opening day 2019 when the team used a logo extremely similar to the Dallas Cowboys' star on the jumbotron and everybody freaked out?

Well, it seems we have a reprise of that situation today but in hat form.

We bring these questionable caps to you today via a reddit post aptly titled, "On no.... please god no..." which shows images of a new Philadelphia Phillies hat made by New Era that is currently being sold.

Philly fans absolutely hate it. Not only does it cloesly resemble the Dallas star, it's also just kind of ugly.

the front:

The hat is part of the New Era Elements Collection where they take something smaller from the team's actual logo and make it the main thing on a hat. The Cincinnati Reds used a mustache which is awesome. The Baltimore Orioles' smily bird looks pretty cool.

And then there's this very bad Phillies hat.

It's pretty obvious they are highlighting the star from the middle of the 'P' which is blown up on the front of the cap and featured relatively normal size on the back of the fitted cap, but it's still way too similar to the Dallas Cowboys' star for most in Philadelphia's liking.

The back:

It's unclear if these hats will ever get anywhere near the actual baseball team. Let's hope not.

Phillies free-agent targets: Josh Donaldson

Phillies free-agent targets: Josh Donaldson

Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.

Today, we check in on slugging third baseman Josh Donaldson.

The vitals

Donaldson has been one of the game’s premier sluggers the last half-dozen seasons. He’s an above-average defender at third base and an outstanding competitor. He has belted at least 33 homers in four of the last five seasons and led the American League with 123 RBIs in 2015, the year he won the AL MVP for Toronto. He battled injury in 2017 and 2018, signed a one-year, $23 million contract with Atlanta a year ago and went on to prove himself healthy by finishing 11th in the National League MVP voting in 2019. He played 155 games for the Braves and hit .259 with 37 homers, 94 RBIs and a .900 OPS.

Why he fits

At a position loaded with sluggers, Donaldson is still one of the best and the Phillies have a big need. Phillies third basemen ranked 24th in OPS (.725) and batting average (.243) and 22nd in homers (23) among big-league clubs in 2019. Donaldson’s fiery style of play would quickly win him fans in Philadelphia.

Why he doesn’t fit

The injury history, coupled with his age — he turns 34 in December — would be a concern on the long-term deal he is seeking, especially when the Phillies have a young third base prospect, Alec Bohm, scheduled to play at Triple A in 2020. Donaldson is one of three big third basemen on the free-agent market with Anthony Rendon and Mike Moustakas. The Phillies have already shown an interest in Moustakas, whose price tag could still allow the team to pump significant resources into pitching.

The price tag

Donaldson jumped quickly at a one-year deal last year. That won’t happen this year. He is said to be looking for at least three years and you have to figure the average annual value will be in the neighborhood of $25 million. If Donaldson keeps producing like he did in 2019, he’d be worth it.

Scout’s take

“He loves to play. And when he’s healthy, he’s a major difference maker. There’s value in that power. The concern for me would be that it’s a long season and he could fit more in the American League because of the DH.”

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