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Gritty Pivetta rises to challenge after demotion

Phils right-hander shows toughness to settle in after 2 HRs in 1st
@ToddZolecki
May 28, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Pivetta showed something Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park, but did he show enough? Pivetta allowed home runs to two of the first four batters he faced in a 4-3 victory over the Cardinals. But he retired the next 10 batters and allowed only one hit to

PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Pivetta showed something Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park, but did he show enough?

Pivetta allowed home runs to two of the first four batters he faced in a 4-3 victory over the Cardinals. But he retired the next 10 batters and allowed only one hit to the final 17, pitching much of the game in heavy rain. Pivetta did these things in a highly-scrutinized return to the Phillies’ rotation. Scrutinized because Philadelphia optioned him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley on April 17 after he posted an 8.35 ERA in his first four starts. Scrutinized because Phils fans seemed to want left-hander Cole Irvin to get another look in the rotation.

Box score

But Irvin was optioned Thursday after a rough start in Chicago, giving Pivetta an opportunity to redeem himself. He allowed three runs on three hits and two walks in five innings against the Cards, striking out six.

“I think anybody grows from doing something like that,” Pivetta said about his six starts in Triple-A. “We saw what happened with [Hector] Neris last year and with me, I had some time down there. Time to collect my thoughts, a lot of driving, a lot of different stuff. It was my goal to come here and just compete with this team and give them a chance to win, and that's what I focused on instead of putting pressure on myself.”

Pivetta kept himself in the running for another start on Sunday against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, but the Phillies stopped short of giving him the nod.

“Yeah, that’s something we’re going to discuss,” Phils manager Gabe Kapler said. “We’re not quite there yet.”

But Pivetta wants the job.

“I want to start again in five days and I want to be here for the rest of the year,” he said.

Does Pivetta think he will start Sunday?

“Yes, I do,” he said.

Pivetta left the Phillies’ clubhouse on April 17 in a huff. The demotion took him by surprise. Pivetta believed he deserved a longer look, but the Phils are no longer a rebuilding team. They are trying to win now. If a player does not produce, they will try to find somebody who will, which means if Pivetta starts Sunday and beyond, he will need to pitch well. If he struggles, Philadelphia will look elsewhere. It could be Irvin again, or it could be somebody else in the system. It could be somebody in a trade, too, with July 31 a little more than two months away.

“This is a work in progress and that's exactly how we see it,” Kapler said.

Pivetta allowed a solo homer to Paul Goldschmidt on a 3-2 slider to make it 1-0 in the first inning. He hit Paul DeJong with a pitch and Marcell Ozuna smacked a 1-0 fastball to right field for a two-run homer to make it 3-0. Fans booed.

But Pivetta rebounded.

“I think it kind of showed in a way today,” Pivetta said, when asked what he learned in Triple-A. “When I got in some trouble, bouncing back, competing, making pitches when I really needed to because I knew I could get out of it based on my stuff.”

“I think one of the things that we've talked to Nick about is some toughness, some grittiness,” Kapler said.

The Cardinals noticed a difference in Pivetta as the game continued.

“Finally got his stuff down, out of the zone -- his breaking ball, his slider,” Goldschmidt said. “So it just looked like his command was a little bit better. He did a good job of getting some pitches that we couldn’t really do much with."

Bryce Harper hit a two-out double to right field in the third inning against Adam Wainwright to score two runs, cutting St. Louis’ lead to 3-2. Cesar Hernandez then crushed a two-run homer off the facade on the second deck in right field in the fourth to hand the Phillies a one-run lead. The Phils’ bullpen took care of the rest with Edgar Garcia, Seranthony Dominguez and Hector Neris pitching a combined four scoreless innings.

“I think as a team we’re never down, always keep grinding and having good at-bats,” Harper said. “I think that’s what makes our team so good. On any given day we can go out there and win a ballgame. We know that as a team. Going against Wainwright tonight and the Cardinals team as well, I thought we battled.”

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .