LAKELAND, Fla. -- Nick Pivetta knew he needed to change this winter if he planned to pitch in the Phillies' starting rotation in 2020.
He did. Pivetta showed a more compact delivery and flashed a changeup in Saturday afternoon’s 8-8 tie with the Tigers in Philadelphia's Grapefruit League opener at Joker Marchant Stadium. He threw a perfect first inning before he allowed five hits and three runs in the second. A couple of those hits came on weak contact. Better defense would have helped, too.
Pivetta left the game encouraged.
“Yeah, it was really, really good today,” he said about his delivery. “I felt my changeup really well. I got some really good swings and misses on it. That's the biggest thing for me this Spring Training -- working on that pitch. When I have the outcome like that, I think I just stay there and build off that.”
“You can really build off that,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “He didn’t walk people. He was ahead in the count. You start doing that, and your location gets better as you get more innings under your belt, you’ve got something.”
Pivetta has an above-average fastball and curveball, which is why so many people in baseball picked him to be a breakout performer in 2019. It did not happen. He got optioned twice to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He got sent to the bullpen. He finished 4-6 with a 5.38 ERA in 30 appearances (13 starts). Last season’s struggles have Pivetta competing with Vince Velasquez and others for the final spot in the Phillies’ rotation.
Pivetta believes his more compact delivery and shorter arm action has him using his legs more and driving the ball better to home plate. He believes the changeup will make him better for the obvious reason that starting pitchers need more than two pitches to succeed.
“That's going to be the pitch that's really going to get me over the edge,” Pivetta said. “I'm not just going to go out there and start [Luis] Castillo-ing it. The guy from the Reds. I'm not a changeup pitcher. But I think I'm just going to go out there, utilize all four of my pitches in those counts to get guys out early.”
Pivetta threw 35 pitches. He threw seven or eight changeups (20 to 22.8 percent). He threw only 15 total changeups last season, according to Statcast. He believes he can throw the pitch enough this season to keep hitters guessing. He is confident he can throw it in any count.
“I like it,” Girardi said. “I think it’s a weapon for him that he needs to learn how to use to right-handers and left-handers. I think he’ll continue to develop it. We’ve got time to develop it down here and we’ll see how it goes.”
Pivetta got his changeup grip from Phillies pitching prospect Connor Brogdon when they played catch together at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. It is a circle changeup grip, with the fingers going across the narrow seams of the ball.
Like seemingly every returning Phillies pitcher in camp, Pivetta is thrilled with new pitching coach Bryan Price. When they first talked on the phone late last year, they talked about the changeup and the importance of keeping the pitching down in the zone.
Let the pitch do the work, Price said.
“Bryan is really, really good,” Pivetta said. “I've really, really enjoyed Bryan. He has a lot of really good knowledge. I look forward to continuing to get to know him more on a personal level and really dive into the knowledge he has. He has such a vast and long history in Major League Baseball. Not only on the pitching side, but also managing. It's better for all of the pitching staff, I feel like.”
Back in charge
This was Girardi’s first game back as manager since leaving the Yankees following the 2017 season. He said it felt like he never left.
“It was good,” he said. “I chewed a lot of seeds, a lot of bubble gum, like always. Like old times. Took a little nap on the bus on the way over and ate a lot for lunch. The same thing.”
• Girardi liked how Scott Kingery worked a leadoff walk in the first inning after he fell behind 0-2 in the count.
• Alec Bohm, who was ranked the Phillies' top prospect last season, went 2-for-3 with an RBI. “He hit the ball well,” Girardi said. “His at-bats were good.”
• First baseman Darick Hall crushed a triple to center field to score a run in the eighth inning. “Geez, the ball Hall hit,” Girardi said. “Wow.”
The Phillies host the Pirates at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday in their Grapefruit League home opener at Spectrum Field. Philadelphia ace Aaron Nola is scheduled to make his spring debut against Pittsburgh right-hander Trevor Williams. Watch the action live on MLB.TV at 1:05 p.m. ET.