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.