Pivetta takes 'step in the right direction' in second spring start

No. 3 prospect Rafaela shows improvement at the plate in win over Yankees

March 9th, 2023

TAMPA, Fla. -- Nick Pivetta has been around long enough to know that even when the ball feels good coming out of his hand, there will be the occasional long day on the mound.

Such was the case Thursday during Boston’s 11-7 win over the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field, where Pivetta struggled against a plucky Yanks lineup but limited the damage to two runs in his second spring outing.

New York worked Pivetta hard during his first 1 2/3 innings, and he threw fewer than 60 percent of his pitches for strikes during that stretch. After he was removed for the final out of the second, Pivetta came back out for one more out in the third and finished his day on a high note after a swinging strikeout of Anthony Rizzo.

The Yankees nickel-and-dimed Pivetta beforehand, spraying foul ball after foul ball to wear down the righty, who walked three and weathered an 11-pitch at-bat to American League home run champion Aaron Judge, as well as a trio of eight-pitch battles to end his part of the second inning.

He threw just 28 of his first 48 pitches for strikes.

“One thing we liked today is that he threw strikes,” manager Alex Cora said. “They put good at-bats on him, but he kept pounding the strike zone. … [There were] a lot of foul balls and he ended up walking guys, but I feel like it’s a step in the right direction.”

After Red Sox reliever Ryan Miller got the final out of the second, Pivetta trotted back out for the third as Spring Training rules allow. The idea was to get Pivetta another up-down as much as it was to have him hit his pitch count for the day as he continues to ramp up for the regular season.

That he faced the top of the order in Judge and Rizzo was an extra challenge, and after allowing a line-drive single to Judge, he rung up Rizzo on a 94 mph fastball and trotted off the mound.

“I felt good; just the pitch count kept me from going further,” Pivetta said. “The only uncompetitive at-bat was probably [Josh] Donaldson [who walked on five pitches in the second inning]. That's about it. The rest was pretty smooth sailing.”

Another Raffy?
That Ceddanne Rafaela is a budding Gold Glove-caliber outfielder has not been in question. He’s got speed, good instincts and has showcased an instinctive first step to the ball off the bat that can’t be taught.

Much like most youngsters, though, there is work to be done where Rafaela’s plate discipline is concerned. Boston’s No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline and the No. 86 prospect in MLB struck out nearly a quarter of the time last season between High-A and Double-A last season (113 whiffs in 481 at-bats).

At 22 years old, Rafaela is the youngest player on the Red Sox roster this spring, so there’s time to grow into his role, but if he can learn to impress at the plate half as well as he does in the grass, it’s not impossible that Rafaela makes his debut this season.

“Defensively as advertised. He makes it look easy over there,” Cora said. “Offensively, he can impact the baseball. There's some work to do, right? … But sometimes we get caught up on this whole thing about chasing pitches and all that stuff and take the aggressiveness from the hitter, and we don't want that because he can impact.”

Rafaela singled in his first at-bat Thursday, a grounder to center field with a 102.4 mph exit velocity. His second connect came on the ninth pitch of a third-inning at-bat, a payoff pitch that he tapped down the third-base line. Rafaela hit the gas out of the box, burning up the basepath at 30.0 feet/second, the MLB threshold for elite speed.

The result was an out -- the knock had just a 12 percent hit probability coming off his bat -- but the hustle didn’t go unnoticed by Cora.

“That’s something we talked about in the beginning of spring,” Cora said. “You’re going to have bad days offensively, you’re going to struggle sometimes defensively, but there’s one thing you can control: You hit the ball, and you hustle your butt off all the way to first.”