Phillies-Rockies 5 Things: Homer-prone Pivetta Takes on Coors Field

Phillies (39-68) at Rockies (63-47)
8:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After winning five straight, including a four-game sweep of the Braves, the Phillies are off to a horrid start to August, losing four out west. They had a 3-2 lead in the series opener in Colorado, but the bullpen squandered the one-run advantage for the second straight night, losing 3-2 to the Rockies.

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In the second game of the three-game set, the Phils turn to Nick Pivetta against Jon Gray at Coors Field for the late night start.

Here are five things to know for Saturday night's game:

1. Western woes
In a season where there has been very little reason for optimism, there was a brief period of positivity as the Phillies swept away the Braves and took their fifth straight victory. In fact, they had started the second half 10-6 and were actually above .500 (13-12) in July.

But their trip out west has been more of the first half struggles that leave the Phillies with the worst record in baseball. In four games, they've managed to score just eight runs while their opponents average 5.75 per game. 

It'd be different if all four games came in Colorado, but the first three were in Anaheim, which is home to the lackluster Angels offense. Aaron Nola gave them a quality start on Tuesday, but the bullpen gave up five runs in two innings. Jake Thompson fell victim to a seven-run third on Wednesday.

And then the bullpen has reared its ugly head in the last two games. This can't be entirely unexpected post-trade deadline. The Phillies traded away their best reliever away and also dealt Joaquin Benoit, who wasn't highly effective in Philly but was at least an average reliever while pitching in high leverage assignments. The dropoff from him to a younger reliever who hasn't seen late-inning duty before can be steep. 

Of course, it would help the bullpen if the Phillies' offense can pick up where they left off in July. They posted the eighth highest OPS in baseball last month. The Rockies were third in OPS and second in batting average, so the Phillies pitching staff has its work cut out for it if the offense is silent the next two days.

2. Pivetta and the long ball
In Pivetta's last two outings, he's allowed six runs (no home runs) on 11 baserunners in 12 innings while striking out 12. The strikeout numbers are impressive, as is his .209/.239/.349 averages against, particularly when five of the runs came against baseball's best offense. 

But a 4.50 ERA over two starts isn't noteworthy, except it is a far way from his 6.82 ERA over his previous six starts, in which he allowed 25 runs in 33 innings. While he struck out over a batter an inning in that stretch, he gave up a whopping 11 home runs.

No pitcher is going to survive surrendering three homers per nine innings, which makes his homerless last two starts so encouraging. His strikeout numbers have been impressive, over a K per inning, and the 24-year-old has been able to blow away hitters at times with his four-seam fastball. 

He'll have to play off that fastball at Coors Field. In the altitude, pitchers often have issues with their offspeed stuff, which could make a pitcher like Pivetta -- who throws his four-seamer over two-thirds of the time -- a solid choice for the assignment. Still, with the Rockies' offense and the adjustment to the environment, Pivetta will have a tough task on Saturday regardless of how well tuned fastball is.

3. A budding ace?
Outside of a couple Ubaldo Jimenez seasons, the Rockies have had plenty of trouble trying to pin down a No. 1 starter. With Gray in his second full season, Colorado hopes it has that starter who can master Coors Field and the National League in one fell swoop. 

In his first full big league season, Gray struck out 185 in 168 innings while pitching to a 4.61 ERA. He was better at home, going 7-2 with a 4.30 ERA in 14 starts.

This season got off to a rocky start for the former No. 3 overall selection as he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in just his third start, prompting him to miss more than two months. Improbably, the Rockies' pitching staff was able to hold things together without Gray and fellow starter Chad Bettis, who has missed the entire season undergoing treatment for cancer. 

Gray has had mixed results in his return, including one particularly ugly start against the Mets in which he allowed eight runs in just two innings. Beyond that, he's been able to elicit whiffs while walking slightly fewer batters than last season. 

The 25-year-old righty has actually been more effective at home than on the road this season, sporting a 3.71 ERA at home while being shelled to the tune of a 6.67 mark on the road. Lefties have batted .327 against him this year, so the Phillies will likely load up their lineup with LHBs to combat him.

Gray's stuff is elite, sporting an upper 90s fastball and a slider than sits around 90 mph. He'll also throw a low 80s curveball, but he's primarily a fastball-slider pitcher.

The Phillies saw him twice last season, tagging him for nine runs in 10 2/3 innings. Freddy Galvis went 2 for 4 with a walk while Cesar Hernandez tripled in four at-bats. Current Phils hit .219/.324/.281 against Gray.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: For the second straight night, Nick Williams picked up three hits on Friday. In that two game span, he's 6 for 8 with three doubles and a home run.

Rockies: Often overlooked playing in Colorado, Nolan Arenado has won four consecutive Gold Gloves at third base and leads the National League in RBI for the third straight year. In 2015 and '16, he also led the NL in home runs and total bases. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies have lost four of five to the Rockies this year. They've been outscored 28-10 in the five contests, a season after beating Colorado five times in seven tries.

• With Friday's loss, the Phillies dropped to 14-28 in one-run games. They hadn't lost 28 one-run games since 2013, when they went 28-28 in such contests.

• Rockies closer Greg Holland saved his 34th game on Friday in his 35th opportunity. The former Kansas City Royal missed the whole 2016 season with Tommy John surgery. 

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