'Lot of fun': Pivetta sharp in post-COVID start

September 12th, 2021

CHICAGO -- Rest won out over rust for as the righty made an impressive return from the COVID-19 injured list, albeit in his team’s walk-off 2-1 loss to the White Sox in the rubber match of a three-game series on Sunday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Park.

It was tough to know what to expect from Pivetta, who hadn’t pitched since Aug. 30 and had been quarantined for the better part of the past week while waiting to clear COVID protocols.

But Pivetta came out sharp and stayed that way, holding the White Sox to one unearned run on three hits, no walks and five strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings and 79 pitches.

His performance was one the Red Sox needed on a day they were short in the bullpen and in the starting lineup.

“Really good,” said manager Alex Cora. “Good fastball. Good breaking ball. The tempo was amazing. It was more than enough. He was in command of every one of his pitches, so that was pretty impressive.”

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, it proved not to be enough. A throwing error by Kiké Hernández led to a 1-0 lead for Chicago in the bottom of the sixth.

On a day in which the starting lineup didn’t include J.D. Martinez (back) or Xander Bogaerts (rest), the Red Sox didn’t score for eight innings against Lance Lynn and the White Sox's 'pen.

Boston finally got some production in the ninth. Hernández began the charge when he led off with a double against Craig Kimbrel. Alex Verdugo pushed the tying run home with a sacrifice fly.

The momentum was short-lived, as the White Sox won it on a solo homer by Leury García with two outs in the bottom of the ninth on an 0-2 misfire down the middle by Garrett Whitlock, who looked dominant in striking out the first two batters of the inning.

With 17 games left in their season, the Red Sox (81-64) are now tied with the smoking-hot Blue Jays (80-63) atop the American League Wild Card standings, and the Yankees (79-64) are one game back after losing to the Mets at Citi Field on Sunday night. Boston now travels to Seattle to face the Mariners (77-66), another team right in the thick of contention in the Wild Card race.

Despite a COVID-19 outbreak that has lasted for two weeks, the Red Sox have hung tough and feel good about where they are coming down the stretch.

“We’re playing good baseball. The last three games, they have felt like the playoffs. The at-bats, the intensity, the moves,” said Cora. “Obviously, we didn't win the series, but we played well. We’ll be ready. We’ve got Eduardo [Rodriguez], Nate {Eovaldi] and we’ll go from there [in Seattle].”

As for Pivetta, who figures to pitch again when the Red Sox return to Fenway next weekend to play the Orioles, he had to be creative in his week away from the team. He didn’t step on a mound until Saturday, when he joined Boston in Chicago and threw a 10-pitch side session.

How did he keep his arm sharp over the last week?

“I got in my car and went to a field where nobody was around and I threw into a fence every day. That’s about it,” said Pivetta.

It was a different type of experience, but Pivetta did his best to stay locked in. Pivetta is vaccinated and didn’t experience any symptoms, so he was able to return in relatively short order.

“I think you just have to stay mentally locked in the entire time,” added Pivetta. “When I’m watching the games, I'm pretending [that] I’m there with everybody. When I’m throwing against a fence, I’m throwing against a fence like I’m playing catch or throwing in a game. It’s all mental -- just keeping yourself locked in for that.”

Pivetta looked locked in from his first pitch on Sunday.

“I’ve pitched in a lot of big league games so far. I just treated it like another start, didn’t try to make it too big, just went out and competed and had fun,” said Pivetta. “It was hard to sit there and watch these guys grind and I really missed it. So it was nice to be back out there. I had a lot of fun today. And it was just all positives.”