Gabe Kapler

Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta could cause some (good) problems this year

Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta could cause some (good) problems this year

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Ask anyone in the Phillies organization which player is most poised for a big leap forward this season and the name Nick Pivetta leaps off the tongue like a 98-mph fastball.

“I would be inclined to believe that also,” a veteran scout from another club said after watching Pivetta strike out eight Detroit Tigers in five innings on Wednesday.

“Both of his breaking balls are good and the fastball had lots of hop today. He used his curveball to finish guys. It was fun to watch. I hadn’t seen him in a while. He’s gotten better. He’s going to cause some problems for teams.”

Pivetta, who turned 26 last month, was acquired from Washington for Jonathan Papelbon in a rebuild trade in July 2015. He has made 58 starts and pitched 297 innings for the Phils the last two years. Though he went 7-14 with a 4.77 ERA last year, he finished fifth in the NL with 10.32 strikeouts per nine innings. The Phillies’ analytics department has collected other statistical evidence that suggests the right-hander is ready for a breakout season. For instance, he had a FIP (fielding-independent pitching) of 3.75 last season. That ranked 24th among big-league starters.

So, what does Pivetta think of the widely held belief that his talent and experience are ready to come together and produce something special?

“I think with me, it’s about ignoring the white noise,” he said. “I still have a job to do and a long ways to go.”

He did acknowledge that, “I feel like I’ve grown as a pitcher. I’m just working on doing it over and over again.”

Pivetta did not have his crispest fastball of the spring Wednesday and he still touched 98 mph. He averaged 94-95 mph. He allowed a solo homer on a hanging slider to Josh Harrison, but threw a number of other excellent breaking balls.

“There were a couple of notable at-bats where he was pretty much untouchable,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “His ceiling is really, really high and, obviously, the stuff is on par with anybody in the league. As we sat and watched the game today, one of the things we kept saying was, ‘That’s A-plus, elite stuff.’ We’ve known that for some time and he is starting to harness it a little bit.”

Kapler mentioned the importance of focus and concentration in Pivetta’s bid to take his game to another level.

“And if he gets to that level of focus for six or seven innings, we have as good a starter as any in the league,” Kapler said.

The manager then confirmed his confidence in Pivetta by announcing that he will slot the pitcher second in the rotation behind Aaron Nola.

So it will be Nola, Pivetta and Jake Arrieta in the season-opening series against the Braves.

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Clearwater chronicles: Rhys Hoskins hurting, Andrew McCutchen to lead off

Clearwater chronicles: Rhys Hoskins hurting, Andrew McCutchen to lead off

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Lots of newsy notes from Phillies camp this morning.

Let’s get to it:

• Rhys Hoskins has a sore left shoulder. Manager Gabe Kapler said it was nothing serious. Hoskins was not in the lineup Wednesday, but he did participate in fielding drills. He is expected to play over the weekend and be ready for opening day.

Hoskins said he tweaked the shoulder taking an awkward swing on Sunday. He was confident the issue would clear up quickly. An MRI revealed no structural damage.

“There are no concerns about him starting the season,” Kapler said. “We’ll give him a couple of days to let things calm down. We have him penciled into the last couple of spring training games.”

The Phillies play their last two games in Florida on Sunday and Monday in Clearwater. Opening day in March 28.

• Kapler revealed that Andrew McCutchen will open the season as the team’s leadoff man. Cesar Hernandez, who led off extensively last season, will likely hit sixth or seventh, Kapler said.

McCutchen has 1,282 plate appearances as a leadoff man in his career. His on-base percentage in that spot is .367. McCutchen has hit most in the No. 3 spot — 3,861 plate appearances.

“I talked to both guys,” Kapler said. “The likelihood is we’re going to start the season with McCutchen at the top of the lineup. I love his profile up there. I love his ability to see pitches. I love his history of on-base.”

Using McCutchen in the leadoff spot also gives Kapler some matchup flexibility in the middle of the lineup as he doesn’t have to hit Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto and McCutchen (all right-handed hitters) in consecutive spots.

“I like the idea of Odubel (Herrera) and Cesar in the middle to give us a little mix and match," Kapler said.

Kapler juggled his lineup often last season. He hopes to avoid that this season.

“One of the things I’m committed to going forward is trying to create some consistency for these guys, especially because they have the capability to really flourish in these lineups spots,” Kapler said.

Hernandez is OK with batting in the middle of the order.

“He’d like to settle in to one spot and I want to respect that,” Kapler said. “I’m not saying it will always happen, but I will do everything I can to respect that. He’s a veteran player and we’ll do whatever we can to make him comfortable.”

• The Phillies do not have a pure backup first baseman for Hoskins. In the event Hoskins needed relief, Maikel Franco would move over from third base and Scott Kingery would fill that spot. Franco will get some reps at first base Friday night against the Yankees in Tampa.

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Gabe Kapler says players could have been more engaged during Phillies' 2018 collapse

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USA Today Images

Gabe Kapler says players could have been more engaged during Phillies' 2018 collapse

CLEARWATER, Fla. — As the Phillies limped to the finish line with 20 losses in the final 28 games last season, some players basically checked out.

"I think in September our players could have been more engaged," manager Gabe Kapler confirmed to reporters in Jupiter, Fla., on Monday. "With the players I thought could have been more engaged, those conversations were had. I addressed every situation that clearly needed to be addressed last year in appropriate settings."

Kapler spoke in response to an ESPN story that told of how Carlos Santana smashed a television at Citizens Bank Park after seeing a couple of teammates playing a video game during a ballgame against the Atlanta Braves on the final weekend of the season.

Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta did not deny that some team members played video games in the clubhouse last season. He added that he did not believe video games were played during games.

Kapler said he was unaware of any of his players playing video games while the baseball game was in progress — "That's unacceptable, 100 percent," he said — but he did not deny that Santana trashed some equipment in the video room.

"In the middle of the summer, the chemistry of the clubhouse was very good," said Kapler, whose club was in first place in the NL East in early August. "As we struggled at the end, understandably, tensions ran high. When that happens, players tend to react. 

"Carlos became frustrated as happens in high-tension situations. He responded by smashing up some TVs. I don't think that's uncommon. I don't think it's uncommon to see players get frustrated in high-tension situations. That happens in every clubhouse environment. "

Kapler said he spoke personally with Santana after the incident and addressed the team in a meeting. The manager opened spring training last month by saying he planned on having more clubhouse boundaries in his second season.

"We are putting steps in place to ensure that when tensions run high again, players communicate and look out for each other," Kapler said. "I care deeply about our clubhouse culture and we are collectively doing everything we can to continue to monitor these situations, and to improve that."

On Monday, Rhys Hoskins defended his manager and said the incident involving the video games and Santana's reaction was not a poor reflection on Kapler's leadership.

What does Kapler think?

"When things aren't going the way that they should, it is always my responsibility to step up and be accountable for those things," Kapler said. "And I will do that in this situation as well."

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