For Phillies, so much still hinges on Nick Pivetta — has he shown signs of growth?


As many questions as ever linger when it comes to Nick Pivetta.

What exactly is his ceiling?

What is his floor?

Do consistently dominant stretches of performance exist in his right arm?

Is it possible he's not that good?

Is it possible he's really good and is one of the many pitchers who just hasn't figured it all out by the age of 26?

Anyone who claims to have the answer is lying. Nobody knows. Pivetta does not know. His development is playing out in real time and cannot be properly assessed by looking merely at results or searching for clues in answers to postgame questions.

Composure was one of the main things the Phillies wanted Pivetta to work on when they sent him to the minors in mid-April. Upon his return — and again, beyond the results — he was composed. He was stoic. He didn't hang his head after a hung breaking ball or snap at the return throw from the catcher because of strike-zone frustration. He kept his cool and was as efficient as he's ever been on a major-league mound.

Last Wednesday, Pivetta did not remain composed in the sixth inning against the Mets. His first five innings weren't bad but weren't breezy either. He allowed two solo home runs — one a CBP homer, one an actual homer — and carried a 2-0 deficit into the sixth. 

Pivetta walked the first two batters of the sixth before giving up a pair of run-scoring hits. Out came Gabe Kapler, and Pivetta had an edge when he handed his manager the ball. It was subtle yet noticeable. There were slight hints of anger, frustration, defiance in the exchange. 

"Nick at that point was just in a hurry to get off the mound," Kapler said. "It's something I'll talk to him about, pausing for one more second before you rush off. It's just the most professional way to handle getting taken out of a game."

Even if he didn't appear to at the time, Pivetta said after the game that he agreed with Kapler's decision.

"I think this game's a frustrating game and in that instance, Gabe made the right move," he said. "(Jose) Alvarez came in and got the outs."

Kapler also referenced Pivetta's demeanor when things aren't going his way on the mound. The change in body language was apparent during his start last week against the Mets.

"We want to talk to Nick about maintaining his composure a little bit," Kapler said. "In particular, on some of the calls. Even at the plate. I think he can do a better job of keeping his emotions in check. When he keeps his emotions in check, he doesn't allow one pitch to spill into the next. He's a much better pitcher."

One ball-strike call was especially bad on Wednesday. Pivetta was hitting and had a 3-1 count when Jason Vargas threw a pitch high and off the plate. Should have been a walk but was instead a called strike and Pivetta whiffed on the next pitch. 

Does Pivetta agree with Kapler's assessment? He took a moment to process what his manager had said when it was repeated to him by a reporter.

"I think I compete and I'm an emotional pitcher for the most part, but I compete," Pivetta said. "At the end of the day, I don't think any of that gets in the way. I just care, I want to do the best I can for this team because they're working their butts off every single day."

These are all moments that help a pitcher evolve — the scoreless innings at Dodger Stadium and the complete game vs. the Reds as much as the high-stress, rough outings against division rivals.

Pivetta has a 4.30 ERA in six starts since returning from Triple A. He allowed four runs total in the first three and 14 in the last three. The Phillies need him to be better. They need his evolution to speed up a bit. He doesn't need to go out in his next start and look like Max Scherzer, but he needs to put forth consistent performances that keep the Phillies in games.

In his most recent start, Pivetta generated only two swings-and-misses among the 40 fastballs he threw and both were of the opposing pitcher. That is something to keep an eye on. His next start is this week in Atlanta, against a red-hot Braves team in a hitter-friendly ballpark.

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