When the Phillies set up their pitching rotation coming into the season, they slotted Nick Pivetta in the No. 2 spot in front of Jake Arrieta, a veteran and former Cy Young Award winner. The stated reason for the alignment was that the Phillies' third game of the season would be televised nationally, in prime time, and Arrieta had the experience to handle such a big-stage, bright-lights assignment.
It made some sense.
But that was only part of the Phillies' thinking.
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Pivetta has huge potential and it's crucial that he reach it during this win-now season. Aligning him second in the rotation, behind ace Aaron Nola, was a show of faith that the organization believed what so many others around baseball believed: This was the year that the 26-year-old right-hander was going to put it all together and be a big difference-maker for the Phillies.
So far, Pivetta has yet to deliver on the club's faith in him.
In three starts this season, he has a 9.45 ERA and has not pitched past the fifth inning. On Wednesday night, the Washington Nationals torched him for seven hits and seven runs in 3 2/3 innings. The Nats won in a rout, 15-1 (see observations), to take two of three in the series and afterward manager Gabe Kapler faced questions about how patient the team was willing to be with Pivetta.
"In order for us to meet expectations, we need better performances," Kapler said in response to one of the questions.
Later in the postgame news conference, he was asked a second time how patient the team could afford to be with Pivetta.
"I don't know," Kapler said. "The answer to that question is probably pretty patient but I'm not sure exactly how to answer that question."
On the one hand, it's advisable to take a chill pill when it comes to Pivetta. After all, the season is just 11 games old and the Phillies are 7-4. Pivetta is simply too talented, too promising, to lose his spot in the rotation three starts into the season. Something could click in his next start and he could get on a roll before the leaves even return to the trees.
But on the other hand, Pivetta's struggles are not new. Over his last 19 starts, dating to the end of June, he has a 6.16 ERA and he's averaged less than five innings.
If these struggles continue, the Phillies will eventually have to make a change. They didn't invest in new talent all over the diamond, including the $330 million man in right field, to spin their wheels in development mode. Pivetta can be sent to the minors and the team does have starting pitching depth at Triple A. Beyond that, a trade is always possible.
It's up to Pivetta to silence this talk. Soon.
"I'm better than that," he said after the loss. "Guys expect me to be better than that. I need to be better for my teammates."
The Phillies have lost two in a row for the first time this season. The Nationals outscored them 24-1 over the final 14 innings of the series. Washington took two of three and has won three of five against the Phils in the new season.
The Phils were never in the series finale. Pivetta needed 39 pitches to get through the first inning. He allowed three runs. He allowed three more in the fourth after a two-out walk.
"Tonight's performance is not close to the greatness that Nick has the capabilities to achieve," Kapler said.
The manager went on to mention Pivetta's preparation and the intent with which he delivers pitches, particularly his offspeed stuff.
"It's conviction and it's attacking," Kapler said. "I think he sometimes picks around the strike zone instead of really aggressively attacking hitters. It's a mindset."
Pivetta knows much is expected of him this season. And with the pressure mounting, he gets another chance to deliver Tuesday night against the Mets.
"Sometimes the game beats the (crap) out of you," he said. "I just have to bounce back."
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