Bethlehem Press

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Pivetta hopes to turn things around

Tuesday, May 7, 2019 by chuck hixson Special to the Press in Sports

The Phillies have had success with sending struggling pitchers down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to get themselves straightened out.

Last season, Hector Neris lost the feel for throwing his splitter and along with it, his confidence. When he returned to the Phillies, he was his old self and probably even better. They had the same hopes for Nick Pivetta and the early returns are pretty good.

After an initial outing where he allowed four innings in six innings of work against Pawtucket, Pivetta formulated a game plan for his second start and executed it perfectly. The plan was to come out throwing strikes and attack hitters with an inside fastball and then throw them off stride with his off-speed pitches. In other words, do exactly what the Phillies wanted him to do.

His second start came against Buffalo and he was stellar. He faced 24 batters and threw a first pitch strike to 17 of them, including putting 12 of the batters in an 0-2 hole. Getting ahead of hitters led him to a career-high 14 strikeouts, including at least two in each inning that he pitched after starting the game by striking out the first six batters he faced and 11 of the first 14.

“My man was dialed in today,” said veteran Rob Brantly, who caught Pivetta’s second start with Lehigh Valley. “He came in to prove a point today and I think with the first six batters he proved that point. He did that throughout the whole outing. There was absolute focus and a fierce mound presence.”

He faced the Bisons again for his last start, this time on the road. While he wasn’t as dominating, he did throw six innings for the third-straight start game and finished with just two earned runs against him, which lowered his ERA with Lehigh Valley to just 3.50 through his three starts. His strikeout numbers were well off from his 14 in the previous outing, but he didn’t allow a lot of hard contact even though he struck out just four batters.

Once again, Pivetta’s battery mate was the veteran Brantly and once again, they were on much the same page. Pivetta rarely shook off any pitches that Brantly called for as the pair just worked to execute their pre-game plan.

“It didn’t really matter what I would have called,” laughed Brantly about the two being on the same page. “He was so dialed in that he was throwing everything well and it was like that from the time he started throwing in the bullpen before the game.”

Brantly has caught a lot of pitchers both in the majors and at the minor league level and could find himself paired with Pivetta as he works through the issues that saw him demoted from Philadelphia to Lehigh Valley after four difficult major league starts. Brantly focused in on exactly the thinking that the Phillies have had with pitchers like Neris and Pivetta, who have hit rough patches in the majors.

“I think it’s in the tank for every player [to pitch like Pivetta did in his first game against Buffalo,]” said Brantly. “It’s just about getting to that point mentally and finding a way to do that on a consistent basis. I think it’s there for everybody; once they find that in them to bring that out every single outing, every single day, then they make the jump and they stay in the big leagues. The stuff is always there, it’s just the consistency.”

DRIVING ‘EM IN... Deivy Grullon had his streak of nine straight games with an RBI broken on Saturday in Buffalo. The 23-year old catching prospect drove in 16 runs during the stretch, Grullon homered twice and hit .444 (16-for-36) and scored five runs for Lehigh Valley. On the season, he’s batting .372 good enough for third in the International League.

THE STRUGGLE IS REAL... Over his last seven games, Dylan Cozens is hitting just .043 (1-for-23). He has struck out 15 times during that stretch, including striking out in seven straight plate appearances over a two-game stretch. This season with Lehigh Valley, he is batting .167 (13-for-78) with 42 strikeouts in 99 plate appearances, to lead the IL in strikeouts. Teammate Lane Adams is third with 39 whiffs. The IronPigs have struck out 302 times this season, which is second in the IL, behind only Columbus.

HELPING THE BIG CLUB... Sean Rodriguez and Phil Gosselin opened the season with Lehigh Valley before being summoned to Philadelphia. Both players are getting limited playing time, but are making the most out of them when they come. Rodriguez is hitting .333 (6-for-18) and Gosselin is batting .286 (8-for-28). Rodriguez has played at second, short and in left field while Gosselin has played both shortstop and left field. Another former IronPig, Aaron Altherr was designated for assignment Saturday when outfielder Odubel Herrera came off the Injured List.