It's been a tumultuous year and a half for Nick Pivetta, who just last March entered the season as the Phillies No. 2 starter behind Aaron Nola.
Pivetta was optioned to the Phillies' satellite site at Lehigh Valley on Tuesday after another poor performance out of the bullpen. With the Phillies leading the Braves 13-1 Monday, Pivetta entered in the ninth inning to get work and allowed six runs while recording just one out. In three appearances this season, he allowed 10 earned runs and three homers in 5⅔ innings.
Some believed Pivetta's big fastball would play better out of the 'pen, that perhaps his true potential was as a hard-throwing reliever. But his ERA as a reliever (6.32) is even higher than as a starter (5.42). As a reliever, Pivetta has allowed his opponents a .934 OPS.
Pivetta is one of many Phillies pitchers who showed no progress under former pitching coach Chris Young, who was promoted from assistant pitching coach after 2018, his first year on Gabe Kapler's staff. The organization's decision to let go of well-respected veteran pitching coach Rick Kranitz that offseason to promote Young played out horribly. The team ERA ballooned from 4.14 to 4.53. The Phillies allowed 66 more runs than they did the year before. But it went well beyond the numbers.
Former Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. noticed that lack of growth in the pitchers the Phillies needed it from most under Young. He raised that point on the latest Phillies Talk podcast.
"I do want to say one thing about that. I think their progression was stalled in a lot of ways by the last pitching coach they had," Amaro said of Pivetta and Vince Velasquez. "I think they were progressing really well under Rick Kranitz and I think Chris Young didn't do either one of those guys a service. A disservice in some ways.
"I really ultimately believe that Bryan Price, with more time and more work — emotionally, physically, mentally — I think Bryan can help these guys become much more effective pitchers. It does take pitchers at times longer to be able to develop and to mature appropriately. I just wish Bryan had more of a normal progression to be able to work with these guys to get them to the point where they're gonna be much more effective pitchers."
Pivetta was a popular breakout candidate in the baseball world entering 2019. The prior year, he had struck out 10.3 batters per nine innings and walked 2.8, showing real promise as a bat-misser with potentially above-average control. But after an offseason of hype, he couldn't find a role that fit and still hasn't. He may have thrown his last pitch as a Phillie.
Amaro credited Zach Eflin, who veered away from the previous coaching staff's high-fastball instructions last summer to go back to basing his repertoire around his sinker. From Eflin to Jake Arrieta, Phillies pitchers have talked about their faith in first-year pitching coach Price and their excitement to pitch the way they feel confident pitching.
Eflin and Arrieta are both off to solid starts. Eflin struck out a career-high 10 on Wednesday and Arrieta is coming off of six shutout innings against the Braves.
"When you start trying to make players and pitchers cookie-cutter types of players, then you're taking away from their natural athleticism and ability to perform," Amaro said. "There is a reason why they were drafted, a reason why they are professional players. Yes, you want to tweak certain abilities, but to me it's about making sure that you enhance their qualities.
"Eflin, for example, they tried to change him into the pitcher he's not. He is an outstanding sinker-slider pitcher with a lead-pipe sinker and if you take that pitch away from that man, you put him in jeopardy of not being able to be an effective pitcher. He finally got to the point where he got fed up and said I'm gonna do it my way and go back to where I need to be. I think he's gonna be a much better pitcher as a result of that.
"Now, do certain guys need to be tweaked or develop another pitch, a cutter, a changeup, whatever the case may be? Yes. But I think a coach is going to enhance that player's real, true abilities and then try to tweak some of the challenges that the player is not able to do consistently. That's the role of a coach for me."
Other topics that came up with Amaro included his time scouting Nola at LSU and how to navigate the unusual 2020 trade deadline (Aug. 31).