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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Indians' Shane Bieber pushes Phillies one step closer to the end

Indians' Shane Bieber pushes Phillies one step closer to the end

CLEVELAND — Time continues to run out for the Phillies.

They suffered a 5-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Friday night.

Meanwhile in Milwaukee, the Brewers hammered the Pittsburgh Pirates, 10-1.

These two outcomes dropped the Phillies five games back in the NL wild-card race with just 10 games to play. The math is against the Phillies. Their elimination number is down to five. If Milwaukee plays just .500 ball over its last eight games, the Phillies would have to go 10-0 just to tie. For a team that hasn’t won more than four games in a row all season, that’s bad news.

“We’ve got to win. Period,” Jay Bruce said. “Can’t worry about anything else. You listen. You read. You concern yourself too much about it and it doesn’t do any good. So we have to win and see what happens. There are no promises. But we know we can’t go where we want to go if we don’t win.”

The Phillies didn’t win Friday night because they did not get a good start from Drew Smyly and they did not hit Cleveland starter Shane Bieber.

The loss was the Phillies’ second in a row and it came with J.T. Realmuto, arguably the team’s MVP, getting the night off. Jean Segura also did not play because of a sore ankle.

Realmuto has carried the heaviest load of any catcher in baseball and manager Gabe Kapler decided to give him a recovery day on the opener of a crucial series. Kapler explained his reasons before the game (see story). Realmuto was not available before the game and he refused to speak with reporters after the game. He is expected to start behind the plate on Saturday night when Jason Vargas looks to stop the losing skid. Vargas has lasted just three innings in each of his last two starts.

Smyly allowed seven base runners and gave up four runs in the first two innings Friday night. He was gone after walking the first batter in the bottom of the third. The lefty appeared perturbed upon leaving the game, but it wasn’t with Kapler’s decision to pull him. The bullpen allowed just one run the rest of the way to keep the Phils in the game.

“I wasn’t upset,” Smyly said. “I was just upset with how the game went. I just wasn’t very good tonight at all. I wasn’t very good with my command and put the team in a hole.”

The Phillies got a two-run double from Maikel Franco, a late add to the starting lineup after Segura was scratched, in the fifth inning and that was the extent of their offense.

Bieber, a 24-year-old right-hander, scattered seven hits, walked none and struck out seven in 7 1/3 innings of work. He looked very much like the guy who was the MVP of the All-Star Game in July.

“He showed why he’s one of the best young pitchers in baseball,” Kapler said. “He brought his A-game tonight. He was able to execute all of his pitches, threw strikes, attacked the zone, and had some wipeout stuff below the zone.”

“He’s the true definition of a pitcher,” Bruce added. “He’s got good stuff, commands both sides of the plate and doesn’t give in. He’s very confident in every pitch he has. He did what he wanted tonight. He hit his spots, he got ahead, he finished guys with different pitches.”

Bieber, who is 15-7 with a 3.23 ERA this season, was a product of the 2016 draft. He went in the fourth round, which means there are 29 clubs out there kicking themselves for passing on him. The Phillies made four picks in that draft, including Mickey Moniak at No. 1 overall, before the Indians selected Bieber out of the University of California, Santa Barbara. The Phils selected pitcher Kevin Gowdy, infielder Cole Stobbe and pitcher Jo Jo Romero with their next three picks. Moniak played at Double A this season and Romero pitched at Double A and Triple A. Gowdy missed time recovering from Tommy John surgery and pitched at Lakewood this season. Stobbe also played there. Moniak, Stobbe and Gowdy were all chosen out of high school.

A familiar name closed the door for the Indians. Carlos Carrasco, the former Phillies prospect who was traded for Cliff Lee a decade ago, got the final four outs for the save. Carrasco is one of the game’s best inspirational stories. He was treated for leukemia this summer and is back helping the Indians in a playoff chase.

The 91-win Indians are tied with Tampa Bay for the second AL wild-card spot.



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Drew Smyly puts Phillies in an early hole they can't overcome against Indians

Drew Smyly puts Phillies in an early hole they can't overcome against Indians

BOX SCORE 

CLEVELAND — The Phillies moved one step closer to being eliminated from postseason contention in a 5-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Friday night.

The loss dropped the Phillies 4 ½ games out in the wild-card chase and they could be five out depending on the outcome of the Milwaukee-Pittsburgh game.

There are just 10 games remaining.

Like the Phillies, Cleveland is in must-win mode. The Indians (91-63) entered the night tied with Tampa Bay for the second American League wild-card spot.

The Phillies did not get a good start from lefty Drew Smyly.

The Indians, meanwhile, got a very good one from right-hander Shane Bieber. He gave up two runs over 7 1/3 innings.

The Phillies are 78-74. They need to win four of their final 10 games to have their first winning season since 2011.

Smyly’s night

It wasn’t good. He walked the first batter in the bottom of the third inning and was lifted by manager Gabe Kapler.

Smyly allowed the first four batters in the bottom of the first inning to reach base on a walk and three hits. Two of them scored. He gave up two more runs in the second inning. Both were unearned after a throwing error by Rhys Hoskins.

Smyly did not appear happy when Kapler pulled him from the game. But eight base runners in two-plus innings was a little much and the bullpen was able to settle things down and keep the game close.

Bieber’s night

The All-Star right-hander improved to 15-7 and lowered his ERA to 3.23.

He struck out seven and walked none. It was the eighth time this season that he’d registered at least seven strikeouts and no walks.

Bieber is a product of the 2016 draft. The Indians picked him in the fourth round out of the University of California, Santa Barbara. That was a notable draft for the Phillies because they had the first overall pick. They selected outfielder Mickey Moniak with that pick. The Phils picked pitcher Kevin Gowdy in the second round, infielder Cole Stobbe in the third round and pitcher Jo Jo Romero in the fourth round, 15 picks ahead of Bieber. Moniak played at Double A this season and Romero pitched at Double A and Triple A. Gowdy missed time recovering from Tommy John surgery and pitched at Lakewood this season. Stobbe also played there. Moniak, Stobbe and Gowdy were all chosen out of high school.

Carrasco comes up big

Carlos Carrasco, the former Phillies prospect who was traded to the Indians in the Cliff Lee deal a decade ago, registered a huge out when he retired Jay Bruce on a ground ball with runners on the corners to end the top of the eighth. Bruce could have tied the game with one swing, but Carrasco won the battle.

Carrasco is winning another battle, as well. He was treated for leukemia earlier this summer and has made it back to help the Indians’ playoff chase.

Carrasco stayed on for the ninth inning and got the save.

Scratched

Shortstop Jean Segura was a late scratch from the starting lineup. He has a sore left ankle. Maikel Franco was inserted into the lineup at third base and Scott Kingery moved over to shortstop. Franco drove in the Phillies’ runs with a double in the fifth.

Realmuto rests

Kapler gave J.T. Realmuto a rest at a crucial point of the season. The manager explained why (see story).

Up next

The series continues Saturday night. Jason Vargas (6-8, 4.48) pitches for the Phillies against Cleveland right-hander Zach Plesac (8-6, 3.64). Yes, he’s Dan’s nephew.



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