When Nick Pivetta is cruising, he looks like one of the most promising young pitchers in the Phillies organization. The trouble is it's almost as if the same player isn't taking the hill every time it's his turn.
Outside of a rough first inning, Pivetta looked sharp in Tuesday's 4-2 victory for Double-A Reading. The big righthander worked quickly and pounded the strike zone, allowing five hits and two runs with six strikeouts in 7.2 strong innings. The win was his 10th of the season, which is tied for the Eastern League lead.
It was also the first time in four starts Pivetta didn't allow at least four earned runs, and only the second time he made it through at least six innings since June 17, when he recorded a complete game shutout. Unfortunately, the ability to repeat the outstanding performances remains elusive.
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"It's all about consistency," says Reading manager Dusty Wathan. "You'll see flashes of things where you'll say, 'Why isn't this guy in the big leagues?' Well, you look at the long haul and you say, 'Okay, now I realize why he's not in the big leagues.' There's still things he's working on. You see flashes of what we hope is the future.
"There's been a couple little bumps in the road, but all in all I think everything's been going well for him."
That's a fair assessment considering Pivetta has a 3.55 earned run average in 21 starts in 2015. Still, the 23-year-old has a tendency to get himself into trouble. He's walked double-digit batters in 11 of his appearances and awarded a free pass to at least three on seven occasions.
Yet despite what would appear to be an obvious flaw based on the numbers, both Pivetta and his manager have downplayed the command issues.
"It's just consistency," Wathan stressed. "The game is about consistency. It's repeating deliveries as pitchers and being able to be consistent with your swing as an offensive player."
"It's fine," Pivetta previously insisted of his command. "Sometimes you get in rough counts in baseball, and the key is just not letting those runners score."
Following Tuesday's victory, Reading catcher Jorge Alfaro seemed to suggest the difference was absolutely Pivetta being in command.
"When he's got all of his pitches in the zone, when he's hitting the spot all of the time, it's easy calling that game," said Alfaro. "It wasn't easy, but he makes it easy, because whatever I call, we were on the same page. He hit his spot all the time."
Pivetta threw 102 pitches, 72 of which went for strikes. That strike total is second only to his shutout, when he hit 76 out of 117 pitches. Coincidence?
Regardless, Pivetta has made tremendous strides this season. Acquired from the Nationals organization for Jonathan Papelbon last season, the 6'5", 220-pounder struggled mightily upon first being called up to Double A, going 2-4 with a 7.31 ERA in 10 starts between Harrisburg and Reading in 2015. Clearly, he's learned a lot and grown from that experience.
"In the offseason, I took a step back, went back to how I was throwing when I was younger, kind of went with that mindset," Pivetta explained. "Also got some real help from my pitching coach Steve Schrenk. He's been a great big help with me mechanical wise, teaching me how to pitch rather than throw."
The 18th-ranked prospect in the Phillies farm system according to MLB.com, Pivetta's fastball sits in the low 90s and can climb as high as 96, boasting a curve, breaking ball and changeup in his repertoire. When everything is working and getting over the plate, he can take over a game.
Just like he did in his June 17 shutout. The scary thing for opponents is that might not even be his best work. Pivetta called the complete game a good experience, adding it was "definitely something I wanted to get out of the way." He also allowed seven hits and walked three, so the outcome could've been a lot different.
"I think I've had better starts," Pivetta admitted afterward. "I got out of some good jams, got some double plays at key points. The guys were awesome behind me and everything transitioned from there."
It's clear Pivetta has the stuff. Now if he can only discover the consistency, the Phillies might have something here.