'Fierce' Nola picks up Phils' overworked 'pen

Ace pitches like one for seven innings; Pivetta earns first save

August 4th, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has talked a lot in the past 48 hours about his shorthanded bullpen, and the challenges it presents as he tries to mix and match his way to victory.

But then there are nights like Saturday at Citizens Bank Park, when Kapler can sit back, relax and watch dominate the White Sox in a 3-2 victory. Nola allowed three hits and one run in seven innings, striking out 10 and walking two. He is 4-1 with a 1.91 ERA in his past nine starts.

“I thought Noles really hit his stride in the fifth inning," Kapler said. "He started to get really fierce.”

The victory moved the Phillies into a second-place tie with Washington in the National League East, and into a tie with the Nationals for the second NL Wild Card.

Nola’s effort followed Friday’s 4-3 loss to the White Sox in 15 innings, which happened in part because the Phillies have three former starters in the bullpen who had not pitched on consecutive days in their careers and had found the up-and-down life of a reliever challenging. Nola provided most of the bullpen with a badly needed respite Saturday. Kapler said everybody in the 'pen could have pitched in an emergency situation, but he wanted to stay away from pitchers like Zach Eflin, Juan Nicasio and Jose Alvarez.

Hector Neris also served the final game of his three-game suspension, meaning Kapler had limited options.

and hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead. Harper crushed his into the second deck in right field for his 19th homer of the season. Hoskins smashed his homer into the trees beyond the center-field fence for his 24th.

Hoskins later made a run-saving play on a squeeze play in the seventh. He fielded a bunt and tossed it to catcher Andrew Knapp, who tagged Eloy Jimenez at the plate.

Nola finished his night with 94 pitches and a two-run lead, leaving Kapler with a couple of decisions to make: Who replaces him? How long does he go?

Kapler chose to pitch the eighth and ninth. He is one of the three recently converted starters in the bullpen. Pivetta threw 12 pitches Friday, but he embraced the opportunity to pitch on consecutive nights for the first time in his career.

“I’m learning,” Pivetta said. “I’m developing a routine, and we’re just going with it. That’s all I can control. I’ve pitched my whole entire life, so I like that. It’s OK.”

He pitched a perfect eighth inning before an error and a bloop single down the left-field line put runners on first and second with no outs in the ninth. Pivetta recovered. He struck out Jimenez and Tim Anderson swinging for two outs. Yolmer Sanchez followed with a single to score a run, but Pivetta got pinch-hitter Adam Engel to strike out swinging to end the game and record the first save of his career.

“His intensity has shot way up,” Nola said about Pivetta. “His fastball is nasty. His curveball is nasty. He’s just getting after it. I think it looks good. It’s overpowering stuff.”

Pivetta has a frenetic energy when he pitches. He is emotional. As a starter, he tried to contain it. As a reliever, he can let loose.

It suits him.

“He seems a little bit more vocal,” Hoskins said. “I think that it’s good for a reliever. I think you have to have a little bit of that on the mound. It’s just different as a starter when you’re trying to elongate your outing. As a reliever, you can go [all out] as soon as you get out there. It seems like he’s doing that. It looks like his velocity is up. Curveball looks a little sharper. Everyone knows his stuff is there, and it’s cool to see him have some success right away. Huge, huge outs tonight.”

Pivetta bounced toward home plate after he struck out Engel. He stopped himself at one point, almost waiting for Knapp to approach him instead.

“I don’t know,” Pivetta said about the final out. “I blacked out.”

But he remembered enough to say he enjoyed it. Maybe he can really help the Phillies down the stretch. They need somebody to step up.

“I’m going into those two-inning save situations, and they’re a lot of fun and there’s a lot of pressure, but it’s a new learning curve and I’m gathering new information,” he said. “It’s going to help me a lot later in my career. I’m going to learn a lot from right now.”