CLEARWATER, Fla. - Ask anyone in the Phillies organization which player is most poised for a big leap forward this season and the name Nick Pivetta leaps off the tongue like a 98-mph fastball.
"I would be inclined to believe that also," a veteran scout from another club said after watching Pivetta strike out eight Detroit Tigers in five innings on Wednesday.
"Both of his breaking balls are good and the fastball had lots of hop today. He used his curveball to finish guys. It was fun to watch. I hadn't seen him in a while. He's gotten better. He's going to cause some problems for teams."
Pivetta, who turned 26 last month, was acquired from Washington for Jonathan Papelbon in a rebuild trade in July 2015. He has made 58 starts and pitched 297 innings for the Phils the last two years. Though he went 7-14 with a 4.77 ERA last year, he finished fifth in the NL with 10.32 strikeouts per nine innings. The Phillies' analytics department has collected other statistical evidence that suggests the right-hander is ready for a breakout season. For instance, he had a FIP (fielding-independent pitching) of 3.75 last season. That ranked 24th among big-league starters.
So, what does Pivetta think of the widely held belief that his talent and experience are ready to come together and produce something special?
"I think with me, it's about ignoring the white noise," he said. "I still have a job to do and a long ways to go."
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He did acknowledge that, "I feel like I've grown as a pitcher. I'm just working on doing it over and over again."
Pivetta did not have his crispest fastball of the spring Wednesday and he still touched 98 mph. He averaged 94-95 mph. He allowed a solo homer on a hanging slider to Josh Harrison, but threw a number of other excellent breaking balls.
"There were a couple of notable at-bats where he was pretty much untouchable," manager Gabe Kapler said. "His ceiling is really, really high and, obviously, the stuff is on par with anybody in the league. As we sat and watched the game today, one of the things we kept saying was, ‘That's A-plus, elite stuff.' We've known that for some time and he is starting to harness it a little bit."
Kapler mentioned the importance of focus and concentration in Pivetta's bid to take his game to another level.
"And if he gets to that level of focus for six or seven innings, we have as good a starter as any in the league," Kapler said.
The manager then confirmed his confidence in Pivetta by announcing that he will slot the pitcher second in the rotation behind Aaron Nola.
So it will be Nola, Pivetta and Jake Arrieta in the season-opening series against the Braves.
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