nick pivetta

Cole Irvin has earned a longer look in Phillies' rotation; what about Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta?

Cole Irvin has earned a longer look in Phillies' rotation; what about Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta?

It should have been obvious after Sunday's gem, but left-hander Cole Irvin has earned another start for the Phillies.

Irvin will face the Rockies at home on Friday night, manager Gabe Kapler said Monday.

"Cole Irvin has earned the opportunity to get additional looks," Kapler said a day after the 25-year-old rookie's seven-inning, one-run debut in Kansas City (see story).

"He was selected to start that game for us because we felt like he gave us the best chance to win the game against the Royals. In the upcoming start against the Rockies, we feel like, at this point, Cole Irvin gives us our best chance to win that baseball game. That's why he'll make that start."

Irvin replaced Vince Velasquez, who hit the 10-day IL (retroactive to May 8) with a right forearm strain. It wasn't a difficult decision for the Phillies to turn to Irvin in Kansas City, given he was fully rested and had little left to prove at Triple A. Irvin was 16-4 with a 2.51 ERA in nearly 200 innings for the IronPigs since the start of 2018.

Nick Pivetta is also on a bit of a roll at Triple A, but he would not have been on regular rest Sunday. Had Irvin pitched poorly, the Phillies could have turned to Pivetta this Friday, but instead, they'll roll with the lefty.

"The competition level right now in the starting rotation is especially high because of guys like Jerad Eickhoff and Cole Irvin," Kapler said Monday. "The fact that Nick Pivetta is now in Triple A pining to return and, in all likelihood, at some point he'll make a really strong push. Vince is going to come off the IL and be excited about trying to get that rotation spot back."

Kapler said Velasquez would be "ready to pitch shortly." In what role remains to be seen. If Irvin and Eickhoff hang on to their rotation spots, we could finally see what Velasquez looks like as a reliever.

As for Irvin, Sunday was just the first step. As a contact pitcher, he will need to continue to spot his fastball well in order to avoid damage. It's just reality that pitchers who lack big-time swing-and-miss stuff have a smaller margin for error. That said, there is still a place in the modern game for guys who consistently locate and get outs. That is who Irvin has been at Triple A. Now he'll get a chance to show whether he can do it consistently in the world's highest level of professional baseball.

"He's willing to induce some contact. He can get us a little bit of a longer start," Kapler said. "The part that is going to be challenging for him is to limit really hard contact. Even in the start against the Royals, there were some balls that might be punished at another time. 

"He was not perfect, but it was a really good, aggressive, confident start. That is what we think may set Cole apart. He's cut from a similar cloth as Jerad Eickhoff. His preparation, his aggressiveness and his confidence in himself. That's not enough at the major-league level, just those intangibles. However, they are definitely contributing factors to success."

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Phillies place Vince Velasquez on injured list with right forearm strain

Phillies place Vince Velasquez on injured list with right forearm strain

In a surprise move, the Phillies placed Vince Velasquez on the 10-day injured list Saturday with a right forearm strain.

The injury could soon open the door for Nick Pivetta’s return to the majors, but more immediately, left-hander Cole Irvin will replace Velasquez on Sunday against the Royals. It will be Irvin's major-league debut after a dominant run at Triple A.

Since the start of last season, Irvin is 16-4 with a 2.51 ERA for the IronPigs despite a low rate of strikeouts.

Pivetta, meanwhile, has found a groove at Triple A Lehigh Valley, pitching to a 2.84 ERA over his last three starts with 25 strikeouts in 19 innings and a .156 opponents’ batting average.

Velasquez was fighting to keep his rotation spot. He has struggled of late. He had a 1.99 ERA in his first four starts but allowed 18 base runners, four home runs and eight runs in 7⅔ innings over his last two starts. The same old issues popped back up — poor fastball command, a deliberate pace, and in his most recent start a game-calling conflict with catcher J.T. Realmuto.

In exactly 75 starts as a Phillie, Velasquez has a 4.57 ERA and the highest home run rate (1.4 per nine innings) among any Phillies pitcher who’s ever made that many starts.

The Phillies called up left-handed reliever Austin Davis to replace Velasquez on the active roster. Pivetta last pitched on May 9 so he wouldn’t be on regular rest until Tuesday.

In another Phillies-related roster move, the Giants claimed outfielder Aaron Altherr off waivers. They've held interest in him for a little while and have one of the worst outfield situations in the majors. Altherr should have more of a role there than he did here.

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Nick Pivetta, bullpen weapon? The Phillies have discussed it

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Nick Pivetta, bullpen weapon? The Phillies have discussed it

Nick Pivetta struck out 14 batters in six innings at Triple A Lehigh Valley on Sunday.

The next day, Phillies officials kicked around the idea of using him in the big-league bullpen.

“We talked a lot about that yesterday,” manager Gabe Kapler said before the Phillies got back to work against the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night.

Kapler stressed that nothing was imminent, that these types of discussions about personnel and roles happen all the time. 

But if the circumstances were ever right ...

“It’s something we’ll consider,” he said.

Pivetta, 26, opened the season in the big-league rotation as the No. 2 starter. He was sent to the minors after giving up 31 hits and 17 earned runs in 18⅓ innings over his first four starts.

Pivetta’s demotion has coincided with the Phillies sending a couple of key relievers, David Robertson and Victor Arano, to the injured list. Another key reliever, Tommy Hunter, has been on the injured list all season.

The organizational preference is to still see Pivetta develop into a consistent big-league starter. He’s got the weapons to do that. But he might also be a pretty good bullpen weapon, especially if the Phils' current rotation of Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff holds up.

“I think a good one,” Kapler said when asked what kind of bullpen weapon Pivetta could be.

Kapler described any discussions about possibly using Pivetta out of the ‘pen somewhere down the road as a balancing act.

“We have to balance it with knowing that at any time he might be one of our five best starters,” Kapler said. “And we can envision him in a situation late in the season where he’s really important in our rotation, or sooner rather than later. So, I think there’s a balance.

“I guess my personal take on it, just being open with you, is I don’t think there’s a whole lot of risk to seeing him out of the bullpen. I don’t think it stunts his development as a starting pitcher to see him out of the bullpen. But I think there are a lot of stakeholders who need to be involved in this discussion.

Just one of Pivetta’s 63 games in the majors has come out of the bullpen.

It was impressive.

In July of last season, he got the win when he pitched the top of the 13th inning in a walk-off victory over Washington. Pivetta threw 19 pitches in the top of 13th and 11 of them registered at 97 mph or more on the radar gun. The right-hander held nothing back. He let it all go. Months later, that performance still resonates positively and tantalizingly in the minds of some Phillies higher-ups.

So could the Phillies use Nick Pivetta as a bullpen weapon sometime this season?

Maybe.

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