Why moving Nick Pivetta to bullpen would make sense for 2019 Phillies

Why moving Nick Pivetta to bullpen would make sense for 2019 Phillies

The Phillies have something in Nick Pivetta, it's just still unclear what.

Can he be an effective starting pitcher long-term, or would he be better suited for the bullpen?

There's a case to make for converting Pivetta into a late-inning reliever and Tuesday was another example why.

Pivetta was sharp the first time through the order, holding the Nationals to 1-for-8 with a walk. This season, Pivetta's opponents have hit .247/.305/.370 the first time he goes through the order.

The second time through the order? Pivetta's opponents have hit .289/.341/.484. 

He's turned his opponents into Freddy Galvis the first time through, then 2018 Charlie Blackmon or J.T. Realmuto the second time through.

The Phillies entered Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader with 20 pitchers active, so it stood to reason that Pivetta's start wouldn't last long. He ended up allowing two runs in 4⅓ innings.

Aside from Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta, Gabe Kapler has not allowed his starting pitchers to go deep into games in September. At the first real sign of struggle, they're out. It's the right approach this time of year when every run scored or prevented is crucial.

Over his last five starts, Pivetta has averaged just 4.7 innings.

What about next year?

Moving Pivetta to the 'pen at this point in 2018 wouldn't accomplish much. This conversation is geared more towards 2019 and beyond.

A role change for Vince Velasquez has been a hot topic the last three summers, but you don't hear nearly as much talk about Pivetta becoming a reliever. Pivetta, in some ways, seems more likely to find success as a reliever because when Velasquez struggles, he loses command of the strike zone.

That's not as much of an issue for Pivetta, who has a terrific strikeout-to-walk ratio of 173-to-46 in 149⅓ innings despite a 4.64 ERA.

What's gone wrong for Pivetta?

At the end of May, Pivetta had a 3.26 ERA and 1.10 WHIP with 67 strikeouts and 14 walks. He was impressing in nearly every way a pitcher can.

He found success early this season with two good breaking balls and a high fastball that finished hitters off with two strikes. In April and May, Pivetta's opponents went 12 for 90 (.133) against his slider and curveball.

Since June 1, they've hit .270 off those two pitches. His breaking balls just haven't held up as well multiple times through a batting order during the course of a six-month season.

Need to add starter(s)

Even though it looks like the Phillies will miss the playoffs, this second half has been important because the organization was able to identify which players are keepers and who is capable of making the contributions needed to win a division.

It's just much easier to make those determinations when the games have meaning.

The Phillies could benefit from bringing in at least one solid starting pitcher this winter to slot behind Nola and Arrieta. If the Phils do add a starting pitcher, moving Pivetta to the 'pen would improve a second area. In a one-inning role, his fastball, which already averages 96 mph, could increase to the 98-ish range. His breaking balls figure to be more effective because hitters are seeing less of them and unable to adjust from at-bat to at-bat.

You've heard a ton about Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the two elite position players available in free agency. 

Other names to keep in mind: free-agent lefties Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Charlie Morton would certainly be worth a long look as well.

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An All-Star for the first time, one of Phillies' most important prospects trending the right way

An All-Star for the first time, one of Phillies' most important prospects trending the right way

Mickey Moniak, the first overall pick in the 2016 draft by the Phillies, has been named to his first minor-league All-Star team. Moniak is one of four players who will represent Double A Reading in the Eastern League All-Star Game on July 10 in Richmond.

Starting pitcher Adonis Medina, reliever Addison Russ and first baseman Darick Hall also got All-Star nods.

Moniak, still just 21 years old, has modest overall numbers this season. He's hit .268/.313/.442 with 18 doubles, eight triples and four home runs in 286 plate appearances. He continues to strike out about four times as much as he walks.

Lately, though, he's turned it on. Moniak has hit .309 with an .887 OPS in 22 June games. He's had multiple hits in four of his last six games.

The verdict is not in yet on Moniak. He does not look like a future superstar, but he still has enough time to develop as a hitter and add muscle. Gaining strength certainly helped Scott Kingery from Year 1 to Year 2 in the majors and Moniak should benefit from it as he continues to grow into his 6-foot-2 frame.

The Phillies badly need Moniak to pan out. Cornelius Randolph, their first-round pick the prior year, still has not hit the way he was expected to. None of Nick Williams, Roman Quinn or Dylan Cozens has turned into a difference-maker at the major-league level. Adam Haseley is on the big-league roster but sidelined another few days by a groin injury. The Phillies' outfield depth has been tested and they simply need good hitters to graduate through the farm system, even if just to use them in a trade.

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Matt Klentak stands by Gabe Kapler, who wants to make things simpler for his hitters

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Matt Klentak stands by Gabe Kapler, who wants to make things simpler for his hitters

Not that it's much of a surprise, but Phillies GM Matt Klentak confirmed Monday that Gabe Kapler will be the manager for the rest of the season.

The Phillies are in a downward spiral that has seen them lose seven games in a row and 16 of 22. In less than a month, the Braves have gained 10 full games in the standings. 

But no big shakeup is imminent, at least not at the top of the coaching staff.

"Gabe Kapler is our manager. Our staff is our staff," Klentak said prior to Monday's series opener against the Mets.

"I'm very well aware of all the criticism right now of the manager, the coaching staff, of certain players. I understand why it's happening. When a team goes through a stretch like we've gone through in the last couple of weeks, people are going to ask a lot of questions. 

"My view right now is that the wrong thing to do is to point a finger at any one person and say you are the reason this is happening. I do not believe in that. We've had a tough time hitting the baseball. We've had a tough time keeping the ball in the park on the mound and we've had a really tough time with the injury bug. It's very difficult for me to say that's on any one person.  

"Let's face it: This is the same team that was in first place two weeks ago. This is the same team that looked like a juggernaut for the first two weeks of the year. This is the same team that went toe-to-toe with the best teams in the NL about a month ago. That has not radically changed. Our place in the standings has changed. We have not played good baseball. That is stating the obvious. To lose faith in our players, to lose faith in our staff is the wrong thing to do at this time. We're proud to stick with these guys and rally together."

Hitting coach John Mallee's job has come into question at a high volume over the last two weeks. This is the case any time an offense struggles. We all say hitting coaches in the majors don't really matter ... until a lineup is not hitting, in which case firing the hitting coach becomes some sort of magical solution.

It goes with the gig and every hitting coach knows it.

"I've been a part of organizations that have made in-season staff changes before," Klentak said. "You have to believe that if you're going to do that you have to believe that your alternative is better than your status quo. And I believe in our guys."

Klentak pointed out that it was just three years ago that Mallee oversaw a Cubs juggernaut that won a World Series. Of course, this doesn't mean much. It's not as if Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras were twisting in the wind before Mallee arrived or after he left. 

The Phillies' lack of offense, particularly in the power department, has been startling. This team was supposed to hit many more home runs than it has. Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins have combined for 29 home runs in 77 games. That might have been a strong number five years ago but not in 2019, when 18 players already have 20-plus homers and 63 have more than Harper's 13.

The expectation that J.T. Realmuto's power would surge as he transitioned from a bad offense and a big ballpark to a good offense and a small ballpark? Hasn't happened. Realmuto has 10 home runs and 23 extra-base hits total. Through this many games last season, he had 36 extra-base hits. 

And keep in mind, Realmuto is the only Phillie in the Top 10 in home runs at any position. (You can count Jay Bruce if you'd like, but 14 of his 20 home runs were with the Mariners and did nothing for the Phillies.)

Kapler's K.I.S.S. method

So how does this get fixed?

The Phillies have been one of baseball's worst teams against opposing fastballs. They have done damage on mistake pitches less frequently than every team in baseball except the worst offenses like the Tigers, Blue Jays, Orioles, Giants and Marlins. To try to correct this, the Phillies are simplifying the message to their hitters. 

An organization obsessed with data and the relaying of information is telling its hitters to focus on the most basic of offensive tasks.

"One thing that we're implementing now is a very simple approach of staying on the fastball, hitting the fastball," Kapler said. "We know that hanging breaking balls, you don't have to sit on, you don't have to look for them or try to hit them, they sit up there, they spin, you can be on the fastball and blister a breaking ball. 

"This is not rocket science, it's not some revelation someone came up with today to get on the fastball and stay on the fastball. This is something that most teams preach and something we've preached in the past. But it is a really good time to simplify a message for an entire group of hitters that we have historically done damage on that pitch and we will get back on track and begin to do damage on that pitch again."

Will they? Will they do it soon enough for it to actually matter in the NL East playoff picture? We shall see. The Phillies face three hittable pitchers in this series in Steven Matz, Walker Lockett and Jason Vargas. Now would be a good time to start pounding mistakes.

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