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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