nick pivetta

Will more changeups equal more fun for Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta in 2020?

Will more changeups equal more fun for Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta in 2020?

LAKELAND, Fla. — Nick Pivetta says it doesn’t matter what role he pitches in this season, that he just wants to have fun playing baseball — that’s something that was missing last season — and help the Phillies win games.
 
But deep down inside, Pivetta desires another chance to pitch in the starting rotation. That’s why he spent his off-season working on his changeup.
 
“Every day,” he said. 
 
“I need a fourth pitch to make this starting rotation,” he added. “For me to take my next step, that's the pitch I'm going to have to have.”
 
Pivetta made his spring debut in the Phillies’ exhibition opener Saturday against the Detroit Tigers. In two innings of work, he threw 35 pitches. Seven of them were changeups. He will continue to work on the pitch all spring as he competes for the fifth starter’s job against Vince Velasquez and dark horse candidate Ranger Suarez.
 
Pivetta is 18-28 with a 5.42 ERA in 71 starts for the Phillies over the last three seasons. The clock is ticking on the 27-year-old right-hander. It’s time for him to turn some of his huge potential into consistent performance. The Phillies thought they were going to get that from Pivetta last year. They awarded him with the second start of the season, but he was sent to the minors just a few weeks later. He eventually made it back to the majors and bounced between the rotation and the bullpen. Along the way, he butted heads with manager Gabe Kapler and struggled to adapt to some of the philosophies of pitching coach Chris Young. Baseball wasn’t much fun. It never is when you have a 5.38 ERA.
 
It’s a clean slate for Pivetta now. Joe Girardi is in as manager. Bryan Price is in as pitching coach. Pivetta is upbeat.
 
“I just want to have fun playing baseball,” he said after his outing Saturday. The Phillies and Tigers played to an 8-8 tie on a chilly Florida day.
 
Using a more compact delivery and shorter arm action — he said he’s simply trying to be “more efficient” — Pivetta enjoyed a 1-2-3 first inning with his fastball reaching 96 mph. He allowed two doubles, two singles and two runs in the second inning. Two of the hits were soft.
 
Girardi has said the competition for the fifth job won’t begin in earnest until the pitchers have made a couple of starts and broken in their spikes. But Girardi liked what he saw of Pivetta his first time out.
 
“His velocity was good,” Girardi said. “He used his fastball down in the zone and up in the zone well. I thought his curveball had bite to it. His slider was pretty consistent. He threw some changeups. I thought his tempo was great. To me, you can really build off that. I don’t necessarily look at the early numbers, right? He didn’t walk people. He was ahead in the count. You start doing that and your location gets better as you get more innings under your belt and you’ve got something.”
 
Girardi had watched a lot of video of Pivetta. He liked the more compact delivery.
 
“I think his fastball is going to get on people, especially as he starts to use his off-speed more," Girardi said.
 
Girardi also liked what he saw of Pivetta’s spring project, the changeup.
 
“I think it’s a weapon for him that he needs to learn how to use to right-handers and left-handers,” the manager said. “I think he’ll continue to develop it. We’ve got time to develop it down here and we’ll see how it goes.”
 
Pivetta lost confidence in his changeup last season and threw it just 1.2 percent of the time. When he landed in the bullpen, he threw mostly just fastballs and curveballs.
 
So far in camp, pitchers have raved about their dealings with Price, whose style is to have pitchers work to their strengths. 
 
Pivetta recalled his first conversation with Price this winter. The two spoke about the importance of improving the pitcher’s changeup.
 
“With Price, when I first talked to him on the phone, something that really clicked with me was just making sure the pitch is down in the zone,” Pivetta said. “Just make sure it's down. Let the pitch do its work.
 
“Bryan is really, really good. I've really enjoyed Bryan. He has a lot of really good knowledge. I look forward to continuing to get to know him more on a personal level and really dive into the knowledge he has. He has such a vast and long history in major league baseball.”
 
The Phils host Pittsburgh in Clearwater on Sunday. Aaron Nola will start. Velasquez will get the ball Monday against Baltimore.

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2020 Phillies spring training pitching probables: Battle for 5th starter begins this weekend

2020 Phillies spring training pitching probables: Battle for 5th starter begins this weekend

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The battle for the Phillies' fifth starter's job will get off to a quick start.

Manager Joe Girardi on Tuesday announced his starting pitchers for the first three Grapefruit League games.

Nick Pivetta will start the exhibition opener against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday in Lakeland.

Presumed opening day starter Aaron Nola will get the ball Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Clearwater.

Vince Velasquez will get the nod Monday against the Baltimore Orioles in Clearwater.

Girardi was not ready to announce any other pitching plans.

On paper, the top four spots in the Phillies' rotation appear set with Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin. Pivetta and Velasquez will vie for the fifth spot with pitchers like Ranger Suarez, Cole Irvin and prospect Damon Jones also getting a look.

"I think it's important that all these guys that are competing for the last spots get a ton of looks and we can afford to do that," Girardi said. "We have a number of games, we have split-squad games. We'll look at people. I think it's important that we do that, that we're fair to everyone because it's fair to the team that way.

"As we go forward, each start gets a little bit more important, but I think it's not fair to evaluate start 1 and start 2. That's the buildup stage."

Girardi, his staff and the front office will use a couple of factors in picking a fifth starter. Obviously, there is performance in spring training. In addition, Girardi said, the team will consider who might profile best in the bullpen. Suarez opened eyes in the bullpen last year. Velasquez and Pivetta both spent time in the rotation and the bullpen last year. One of them appears to be ticketed for the rotation and the other for the bullpen.

"The bottom line is we're going to want our 13 best pitchers to go with us and we have to kind of put that puzzle together," Girardi said.

New pitching coach Bryan Price has mentioned that a starter transitioning to the bullpen can benefit from some adjustment time because relieving is "a learned craft." In a perfect world, the Phils will identify who starts and who goes to the bullpen before the Grapefruit League schedule ends so the adjustment period can commence.

"We would like to do that," Girardi said. "That doesn't mean it will happen. If they make our job really difficult, it might get drawn out longer. And you can make it difficult two different ways — they're all pitching good or they're all scuffling."

Girardi hopes they're all pitching good.

In Price's view, a starter transitioning to the bullpen should not view the move as a slight.

"There's an emotional hurdle of not starting that has to be cleared," he said. "Some guys look at it as a demotion when it can really be something that stimulates a career and greatly impact the ballclub."

No team gets through a season with five starters. So today's reliever might be tomorrow's starter. 

"Just because we pick a fifth starter at the end of March doesn't mean things couldn't change," Girardi said.

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All this spending and still, half of Phillies' pitching staff in question

All this spending and still, half of Phillies' pitching staff in question

The Phillies have added more than $100 million of payroll three offseasons in a row.

There was the $135 million combined to Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta in 2017.

There was the $403 million for Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson.

And then $132 million more for Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius this offseason.

The Phils have been as aggressive as any team over those three offseasons, yet as they prepare for 2020, questions remain about more than half of the pitching staff.

All that spending and the No. 5 spot in the rotation still projects to go to Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta.

Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin, if healthy, will fill the Nos. 3 and 4 spots.

A Phillies optimist could say that the battle between Velasquez and Pivetta could lead to actual progress, that a healthy Arrieta will be better and that Eflin showed meaningful signs of promise in 2019. But there are just as many valid reasons to be skeptical about that group.

In the bullpen, Hector Neris is proven and that's really it. 

Adam Morgan has shown at times he can be a very good left-handed reliever. Seranthony Dominguez in 2018 looked like a dynamic right-handed flamethrower. Jose Alvarez was solid as a lefty specialist a year ago. But those three are far from slam-dunks as your setup trio, especially from a health perspective with Dominguez.

Over the past week, the Mets signed Dellin Betances and the Twins reportedly added starters Rich Hill and Homer Bailey on one-year deals. There aren't many free-agent pitchers left even if the Phillies wanted to add between now and spring training.

The free-agent starting pitching market is now so thin that Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas might really be two of the top five options left. 

Lefty Alex Wood is still out there. So are low-risk, potentially high-reward reclamation projects like Danny Salazar, Aaron Sanchez and Jimmy Nelson. It would behoove the Phillies to take a serious look at one of them; they sure could use a player who outperforms the contract he signs.

The most notable relievers left on the free-agent market are Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, Steve Cishek, Jeremy Jeffress, Arodys Vizcaino and Pedro Strop. All could help. All have pitched higher-leverage innings than many of the Phillies' relievers.

The best path to a good starter would be a trade. Lefties Robbie Ray and Matt Boyd still look destined to be dealt between now and the trade deadline. The issue there is the Phillies will have trouble acquiring any high-end starting pitcher without trading Spencer Howard or Alec Bohm, which is extremely unlikely. Ray and Boyd themselves might not be good enough to warrant a big prospect package anyway.

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