Phillies

What went wrong with Phillies starter Nick Pivetta?

What went wrong with Phillies starter Nick Pivetta?

The Phillies' demotion Wednesday morning of Nick Pivetta to Triple A did not qualify as a total shock based on how he's pitched but was slightly surprising given how much this organization has talked him up over the last six months.

Phillies decision-makers entered the season very high on Pivetta because of the velocity and finish he showed with his fastball for parts of last season, the command of his curveball and slider he showed in April and May, and the impressive season-long strikeout and walk numbers he posted.

But early in 2019, he just didn't have enough. He wasn't close to the pitcher we saw the first two months of 2018, when he posted a 3.26 ERA in his first 11 starts. At that point, Pivetta was missing bats at the top of the zone to finish hitters off, and his opponents were a combined 12 for 90 (.133) against his curveball and slider.

In spring training, Pivetta flashed. His fastball overpowered hitters and was being thrown on a downhill plane that made it even harder to hit. In two of his spring training starts, Pivetta looked like the best player on the field.

Then the regular season began.

In Pivetta's first four starts, he had an 8.35 ERA and his opponents hit .383. He put 40 men on base in 18⅓ innings. 

It did not seem as though the Phils were ready to make this move before the events of Tuesday night. You just couldn't ignore the difference in the way Pivetta and Jerad Eickhoff attacked Mets hitters with a huge lead.

Pivetta was spotted a 10-run lead in the first inning Tuesday but was unable to pound the strike zone and make quick work of the Mets despite all that wiggle room. He ended up allowing 11 baserunners in five innings, putting at least two men on base in all but one inning. He was also taken deep twice.

The Phillies entered Tuesday night needing length out of the Pivetta-Eickhoff combo because the bullpen had been used in 21 of the previous 36 innings. But you could tell early it wasn't going to be a long night for Pivetta, who threw 100 pitches (59 for strikes) in his five innings.

Eickhoff then mowed through the Mets' order with four shutout innings. He struck out six and did not overuse his curveball, throwing it 18 times compared to 21 fastballs and 20 cutters. With how crucial the curve is to Eickhoff's success, it was a positive sign to see him get outs with other pitches too. 

Eickhoff's first start of the season lines up to be this Sunday at Coors Field, where curveballs go to die. A study conducted several years ago showed that curveballs at Coors Field average 1.5 fewer inches of drop than they do elsewhere because of the altitude. A strong showing from Eickhoff would be a massive confidence-builder, but expectations shouldn't be six scoreless innings.

As for Pivetta, he's now off to Lehigh Valley to try to find fastball command, sharp break on his curveball and confidence of his own. Getting pounded the way he did in these first four starts took a toll.

Whether or not Pivetta succeeds at the major-league level will be determined by how well he's able to spot his pitches on the corners. He left far too many pitches over the middle of the plate and the mitt just didn't pop the way it did this time last year. The opposition hit .415 against his fastball and .351 against his curveball and slider.

The demotion does not mean we've seen the last of Pivetta. If he rattles off two or three very good starts at Triple A and Eickhoff struggles or another pitcher is injured, Pivetta could be right back up. The Phillies aren't closing the book on Pivetta but rather trying to rewrite several early chapters.

At some point this season, the Phillies will need to add another starting pitcher. They've received just six quality starts in 16 games, and while they've gone 10-6 despite it, there will be stretches when the offense goes cold and more reliable starting pitching is needed. Especially with this team having aspirations of playing deep into October, not just making it there.

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At Memorial Day checkpoint, Phillies are 'one of the best teams in baseball,' says Jake Arrieta

At Memorial Day checkpoint, Phillies are 'one of the best teams in baseball,' says Jake Arrieta

MILWAUKEE — Two weeks ago, the Phillies embarked on a 20-game stretch against a handful of the best teams in the National League, a stretch that would offer a read on the club’s legitimacy as a contender as the weather warmed and the division races became more defined.

The Phils are 13 games into that stretch. They have won eight of them to improve from seven games over .500 to a season-high 10 games over .500.

Is this team legit?

Ask the guy who put the club on his back Saturday and led a 7-2 win Saturday over the Milwaukee Brewers (see observations)

“We’re one of the best teams in baseball,” Jake Arrieta said after pitching eight bullpen-saving innings and striking out eight Brewers.

“We’re rolling and we feel good about where we’re at.”

The Phillies began this seven-game road trip with a win at Wrigley Field on Monday night. They lost the next two to the Cubs — one in harrowing, walk-off fashion — only to salvage a series split with a difficult win Thursday. They’ve followed it up with two wins in Milwaukee and have a chance to sweep the series on Sunday.

The Brewers hammered the Phillies in Philadelphia last week, but the Phils came back after that series and swept the Rockies at home. That feat illustrated the team’s resilience. So has this current three-game win streak following two tough losses against the Cubs.

“I think we just showed the rest of baseball that we're one of the best teams and we deserve to be in that category,” Arrieta said. “We showed it in Chicago. We probably could’ve won another one of the games there but to split a series with them at Wrigley and get the first two at this ballpark against one of the best teams in baseball, one of the best offenses in baseball, speaks volumes about the group we have.”

Memorial Day is considered the first checkpoint of the big-league season, the first time you can draw some meaning from the standings. The Phils lead the NL East. They are one of seven teams in the majors at least 10 games over .500.

“It's notable,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I think what's more notable is this road trip, which we knew was going to be a major challenge. So we go into this last game of this series with a chance to sweep an excellent team and assured we're going to have a winning road trip. I think that is powerful. I think it's meaningful. Equally meaningful as where we are on Memorial Day is how we handled this road trip.”

The bullpen has sucked up a lot of innings recently. Entering Saturday’s game, it had logged 47 1/3 innings over 12 games, the third-most in the big leagues over that span. The relievers needed a break and Arrieta gave them one Saturday. He had a live fastball — one of his best of the season — with movement. He kept his pitch count down and got 10 swinging strikes and 24 called strikes. Home plate umpire Mike Estabrook had a generous strike zone and Arrieta occasionally used it to his advantage in expanding the zone. He got a generous strike call on a 3-1 pitch against Lorenzo Cain with a run in and a runner on third with the game on the line in the eighth inning. Arrieta then retired Cain on a ground ball to end the inning one batter before he would probably have been lifted with Christian Yelich due up.

The Brewers were not happy with Estabrook’s work — manager Craig Counsell and outfielder Ryan Braun were both booted — but the Phillies did not complain.

“Jake was absolutely cognizant of getting in the zone and giving us length and it was exactly what our club needed,” Kapler said. “The bullpen needed it desperately and he was the right guy at the right time.”

The Phils hit four homers — they have five in the series — and two of them came in a three-run ninth. That cushion allowed closer Hector Neris a day off.

“We have a fresh, fully loaded bullpen — when I say fresh, I mean relatively speaking — heading into the final game of the series and then we have an off day the following day,” Kapler said. “So, we can be aggressive tomorrow.”

Said Arrieta: “Already winning a series against these guys with a shot to sweep them tomorrow is really good for our ball club.”

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Phillies 7, Brewers 2: Jake Arrieta goes eight strong innings, Phillies hit four home runs

Phillies 7, Brewers 2: Jake Arrieta goes eight strong innings, Phillies hit four home runs

BOX SCORE 

MILWAUKEE — Jake Arrieta pitched a gem in leading the Phillies to their third straight victory Saturday afternoon.

The 7-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park pushed the Phils’ record to a season-high 10 games over .500. They are 31-21.

The Phils have played two top teams, the Cubs and Brewers, on this road trip and they are 4-2 with one game to play.

Arrieta pitched eight innings of two-run ball. He struck out eight and walked just one. Andrew McCutchen, Cesar Hernandez, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto all homered to lead a 12-hit attack.

The keys

• Arrieta was brilliant. He delivered a vintage Arrieta performance in his 19th career start against the Brewers.

• The Phillies established themselves early when McCutchen hit the second pitch of the game high over the center-field wall for his eighth homer. McCutchen is locked in at the plate. He has 12 hits, seven for extra bases, and nine RBIs in his last seven games.

• For the second night in a row and umpteenth time this season, Realmuto made a big defensive play. From his knees, the Phillies’ catcher picked off Yasmani Grandal at first base in the second inning. The Brewers had put the first two runners on in that frame and Realmuto helped stop any potential damage.

• Hernandez made a couple of nice plays behind Arrieta at second base and he had a homer and an RBI single. He leads the Phillies with 58 hits and is hitting .340 in a 42-game stretch since April 10.

• The Phils have shown extra-base pop in the first two games of the series with six doubles and five homers.

Arrieta’s day

The right-hander had excellent life on his fastball and he kept his pitch count low. He retired 16 straight before losing his shutout bid on a homer to Mike Moustakas with two outs in the seventh. That was just the third hit that Arrieta allowed.

Arrieta had possibly his best fastball of the season. It had good sink and averaged 93 mph. It topped out at 95 mph. He threw 100 pitches, got 10 swinging strikes and 24 called strikes. Home plate umpire Mike Estabrook had a generous strike zone and Arrieta used it well. Brewers’ slugger Ryan Braun and manager Craig Counsell were both ejected for beefing with Estabrook.

Arrieta (5-4, 3.60) has delivered a quality start — six or more innings, three or fewer runs — in eight of 11 starts this season.

Transaction

Pat Neshek officially went on the injured list. Hard-throwing reliever J.D. Hammer was promoted from Triple A. Read about Hammer here

Up next

Zach Eflin (5-4, 2.76) gets the ball in the final game of the series and the road trip on Sunday afternoon. Right-hander Brandon Woodruff (6-1, 3.51) pitches for the Brewers.

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