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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Phillies Talk podcast: Opinions on Bryce Harper after a year in Phillies pinstripes


Phillies Talk podcast: Opinions on Bryce Harper after a year in Phillies pinstripes

Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman got together for a lil' Phillies Talk on the one-year anniversary of the Bryce Harper signing. Aside from their opinions and big-picture takeaways from Harper's first year with the Phillies, the guys discussed Zack Wheeler's imminent debut, Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen.

• Zack Wheeler debuts Saturday — what are we looking for?

• Some Phillies hitters thrilled to not have to face Wheeler anymore.

• Why so much Jean Segura at 3B early in camp?

• Defensive upgrades in the infield.

• Where is Andrew McCutchen? How does the knee look?

• Recalling the buzz in Phillies camp when Harper signed.

• The overlooked aspect of Harper's first season in Philly.

• How many Phillies records can Harper set?

• Honesty from J.T. Realmuto about Phillies pitchers, coaching changes and disrespect from the outside.

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A way-too-early look at how high Bryce Harper could climb on Phillies all-time leaderboards

A way-too-early look at how high Bryce Harper could climb on Phillies all-time leaderboards

Can you believe it’s been a year since the Phillies signed Bryce Harper?

In most years, the final day of February will be the anniversary. Not 2020 because it’s a leap year, but here we are on Feb. 28, some 365 days after the afternoon splash that left Phillies fans delirious for months. 

Harper had a strong first year with the Phils. An overlooked component of it was his durability. He played in 157 games, the second most of his career. The Phillies will need him to be on the field that much to reach their ultimate destination. Perhaps at some point during his contract the rest of the roster will be good enough to contend even if he’s at less than 100%, but that time isn’t now.

Days left

Today marks 365 days down and 4,268 to go in Harper’s Phillies contract.

That 4,268 figure could be off by a few days but you get the point. It assumes the 2031 World Series ends on Halloween.


Harper enters 2020 with 219 career home runs — averages of 27 per season and 33 per 162 games.

If he averages just over 35 home runs for the next eight seasons, he would hit his 500th home run toward the end of the 2027 season. Factoring in future time missed to injury and the fact that so far, he’s exceeded 35 only in his 2015 MVP season, 2028 is more realistic. Maybe even 2029.

Schmidt more than safe

Harper could hit 35 homers every year for all 13 years with the Phillies and still be 93 shy of Mike Schmidt.

Harper does have a decent chance to reach second on the Phillies’ all-time list. Ryan Howard occupies that spot with 382. Harper would need to average 29 longballs a year over the next dozen to surpass The Big Piece.

Schmidt had 11 seasons of 35+ home runs. No other Phillie had five. Harper is a safe bet to do so. 

Howard had four, Chuck Klein three, and Greg Luzinski and Jim Thome had two. 

The only other 35-homer seasons in Phillies history belong to Harper, Jayson Werth (2009), Pat Burrell (2002), Dick Allen (1966) and Cy Williams (1923).

Schmidt averaged 68 extra-base hits and 102 walks per 162 games in his career. 

Harper has averaged 69 extra-base hits and 102 walks per 162 games in his.

Which Phillies records could Harper set?

This should show how difficult it is to set franchise records when you don’t begin your career with that franchise. The longevity of Schmidt (18 seasons) and Jimmy Rollins (15) will make it difficult for Harper to reach higher than second in several categories. 

Harper would need to average just over 117 walks per season to break Schmidt’s mark. Highly unlikely.

Doubles? Harper hit 36 in 2019. He would need to average 37 a year over the next 12 to break Jimmy Rollins’ mark of 479. 

He’d need 180 hits per season to surpass Rollins. 

Sifting through careers, the best chance at a big offensive Phillies record for Harper would be seasons with 100+ RBI. He had 114 last year. Schmidt had the most seasons in Phillies history of at least 100 RBI with nine. Can Harper do it nine more times in 12 years?

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