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Pivetta’s trouble spells long night for Phils

Starters gives up seven runs in 3 2/3 innings; Altherr makes first pitching appearance
@ToddZolecki
April 11, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Pivetta had been the trendy pick to be the Phillies’ breakout performer in 2019. But three starts into the season there are no signs of a breakout campaign. Pivetta had a nightmarish performance Wednesday night in a 15-1 loss to the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park, handing

PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Pivetta had been the trendy pick to be the Phillies’ breakout performer in 2019.

But three starts into the season there are no signs of a breakout campaign. Pivetta had a nightmarish performance Wednesday night in a 15-1 loss to the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park, handing the Phillies their first series loss of the season. He allowed seven hits and seven runs in just 3 2/3 innings. He has allowed 24 hits and 14 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings overall. He has a 9.45 ERA.

“This game's going to beat the [stuff] out of you,” Pivetta said. “You just have to bounce back. I have another start in five days. I'm going to go in there and do a lot better than I did today.”

Pivetta has been struggling for some time, which could be cause for concern. He is 4-9 with a 6.16 ERA in his last 19 starts, dating back to June 29. The Phillies were able to be patient with him while they built for the future. But the rebuild is over, and they need consistent efforts from their pitchers.

“In order for us to meet expectations, we need better performances,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said.

So how patient can the Phillies be?

“The answer to that question is probably pretty patient,” he said.

Kapler later clarified, “He’s got a tremendous amount of ability. We trust that that ability is going to show up. I believe strongly that he’s going to be OK.”

Pivetta went 7-14 with a 4.77 ERA in 33 appearances (32 starts) last year. But he carried a 3.80 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) mark, which the Phillies considered a more accurate predictor of future performance than ERA.

They believed Pivetta would be better. A lot of people did.

“I think Nick has been really close for quite some time, and a lot of that starts with his intent and preparation,” Kapler said.

Pivetta struck out 188 batters in 164 innings last season. His 27.1 percent strikeout rate ranked 22nd among 140 pitchers that threw at least 100 innings. It ranked higher than Aaron Nola (27.0 percent), Corey Kluber (26.4 percent) and Noah Syndergaard (24.1 percent). Many believed Pivetta’s ability to miss bats, plus the Phillies’ upgraded defense, would lead to more success.

But it has not happened. Pivetta allowed three consecutive singles in the first before walking Juan Soto to score the Nationals’ first run. Washington scored two more in the inning to take a 3-0 lead.

“He got ahead a couple times and just didn’t have the intent to put hitters away early on,” Kapler said. “It’s conviction and it’s attacking. I think he sometimes picks around the strike zone instead of really aggressively attacking hitters. It’s a mindset.”

Pivetta agreed.

“I'm better than that,” he said. “Guys expect me to be better than that. I have to have intent with those breaking-ball pitches. I have to get out of that inning at a way better rate than that. Forty pitches in the first inning, it's just not good. It needs to be better. I need to be better for my teammates.”

Pivetta retired nine of 10 batters at one point, including six strikeouts, before the bottom fell out in the fourth. He had a runner on second and two outs, when he walked Adam Eaton and allowed an infield single to Brian Dozier to load the bases. Anthony Rendon ripped a double to right-center field to clear the bases. Rendon has batted .533 (8-for-15) with two doubles, three home runs and nine RBIs in his career against Pivetta.

Rendon later scored to make it 7-0.

The Phillies, meanwhile, mustered nothing against Jeremy Hellickson. It got so bad that they pulled Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto before the seventh, and that Aaron Altherr pitched the ninth. He struck out Dozier and Yan Gomes on 89 mph fastballs, but he allowed a run to score in between.

Altherr brought levity to an awful night. Pivetta boarded a flight for Miami thinking about the future.

“There's always pressure, but that's fun,” he said. “It's fun to be in this position. It's fun to be in this clubhouse right now. It's fun to have that pressure, especially with the fans we have coming to the games and the expectations that we do have. We need to be better, and I need to be better. The [results] for me weren't good today, but I'm going to work really, really hard.”

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