It's a 64-mile drive from Philadelphia to Allentown. Nick Pivetta knows that because he spent the last five weeks making the drive. He had come out of spring training in Clearwater as the Phillies' No. 2 starter and everybody's pick to click as baseball's breakout pitcher of the year only to be demoted to Triple A after four poor starts to open the season.
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"I think anybody grows from something like that," Pivetta said of his demotion. "We saw what happened with (Hector) Neris last year and with me, I had some time down there, time to collect my thoughts, a lot of driving, a lot of different stuff.
"It was my goal to come back here and just compete and give this team a chance to win and that's what I focused on instead of putting pressure on myself."
Pivetta, 26, returned to the Phillies' rotation on Tuesday night and played a big role in the team's 4-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in rainy conditions at Citizens Bank Park (see observations). After an inauspicious beginning in which he allowed three runs on two homers and a hit batsman within the first four batters of the game, the big right-hander proceeded to retire 10 straight on his way to giving his club five innings of three-run ball. Pivetta chipped in with an important hit at the plate as the Phils scored twice in the third and twice in the fourth to come back from a 3-0 deficit and take the lead. The bullpen locked it down and the Phils improve to 32-22 overall and 19-10 at home.
Bryce Harper and Cesar Hernandez had the big hits for the Phillies and the Dominican trio of Edgar Garcia, Seranthony Dominguez and Hector Neris pitched four scoreless innings to protect the lead.
But the game might have been out of reach if Pivetta hadn't saved himself after that poor first inning.
"Nick is the story of the game," manager Gabe Kapler said. "That was a real gutsy performance in sup-optimal conditions. We always say, ‘Who can be toughest in those kind of conditions?' I thought Nick was pretty gutsy in those conditions. It wasn't perfect. There was some falling behind (in counts) at times, but he really showed up when he needed to in the most important moments."
Did Pivetta's ability to stop the damage after the first inning and rebound over the next four innings earn him another start this weekend in Dodger Stadium?
One would think yes.
But Kapler would not commit.
"That's something that we're going to discuss," he said. "We're not quite there yet."
Pivetta expects to start for the Phillies in five days.
"Yes, I do," he said. "I want to start again in five days and I want to be here for the rest of the year."
There was something a little different about Pivetta as he spoke with reporters after the game.
He seemed to speak a little more softly than in the past. Frankly, he seemed a little humbled by his trip to the minors.
"It was just nice being back in here, being with the guys," he said. "It felt normal again, felt good. Being able to do that and go out and do what I did tonight, there were a lot of positive things to end off of and take into my next start.
"I think everybody puts pressure on themselves. I might have put a little more than I probably should have (early in the season), but that's just growing as a player and proving that you can get through those moments. I feel like I did it tonight."
The biggest thing he learned in Triple A?
"I think it kind of showed in a way tonight," Pivetta said. "When I got in some trouble, bouncing back, competing, making pitches when I really needed to because I knew I could get out of it based on my stuff."
So maybe this was a double win for the Phillies. A win on the scoreboard and win for Pivetta's confidence, one that could keep paying dividends. Time will tell.
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