Nick Pivetta dazzled in his debut with the Boston Red Sox.
Scouts have long been enamored with Nick Pivetta‘s ability on the mound but he’s never been able to harness his talent at the big league level. Perhaps the Boston Red Sox have figured out a way to tap into that potential.
Pivetta was impressive in his team debut, limiting the Baltimore Orioles to one run on four hits over five innings to earn the win.
The right-hander’s control was a bit shaky in the first inning when he walked two of the first four batters he faced but he managed to settle down after that. Pivetta threw a pretty good curveball that DJ Stewart poked weakly into shallow center to drive in a run for the only damage done during this otherwise strong appearance.
Pivetta escaped the jam with a strikeout and followed by striking out the side in the second inning as he started to find his groove. He would end up with eight strikeouts in his five innings of work. As much as Pivetta has struggled throughout his career, he’s always shown an ability to rack up strikeouts with a solid 9.6 K/9 in parts of four major league seasons.
It appeared that Pivetta might be running out of gas in the fifth inning. His velocity dipped and he started losing command again, allowing a base hit and a walk to open the inning. A mound visit from pitching coach Dave Bush helped get him back on track. Pivetta started attacking the top of the zone with fastballs to strike out Austin Hays and then went low to induce a ground ball for an inning-ending double play.
He doesn’t have overpowering velocity with his fastball sitting between 89.7 mph and 94.4 mph last night but it can be effective when he’s able to locate it well. Opponents hammered his four-seam fastball last year to the tune of a .348 batting average and .460 WOBA, per Statcast. That’s unacceptable for a pitch that he relies on about 51 percent of the time.
Command of his fastball, as he showcased against Baltimore, is vital to Pivetta’s success but he knows that it will take more than that from his arsenal. He relied heavily on his slider against the O’s, throwing it 23 percent of the time. He also worked in a knuckle curve (21%) and a changeup (5%).
"“That’s the pitcher I am,” he told reporters after the game, per MassLive’s Chris Cotillo. “You can’t go out there with two pitches. Being able to have a solid mixup of four pitches, which I showcased tonight pretty well. I think that’s just what we’ve been working on. It paid off tonight.”"
Pivetta has historically thrown his curve about twice as often as the slider but that wasn’t the case in his Red Sox debut. He didn’t appear to have a great feel for the curve early on and that may have enticed him to rely more on the slider, which was his most impressive pitch that night. Pivetta generated seven swings-and-misses with his slider, the most on any of his pitches and tied for the second-most in any appearance in his career.
If his slider remains this sharp and he manages to hit his spots with the fastball up in the zone while mixing in his two other pitches to keep hitters off balance, Pivetta has a chance to thrive in the rotation.
So, if Pivetta can be this effective, why were the Red Sox hiding him at their alternate site in Pawtucket for so long when they have such a desperate need for arms to fill the rotation?
For one thing, this success came against an Orioles club that has fallen back down to Earth since their surprising start to this season. Let’s pump the breaks on deeming Pivetta the savior of the rotation after five solid innings against Baltimore.
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The Red Sox also needed to keep Pivetta off the major league roster until at least September 20, ensuring that he would have fewer than 28 games in the majors this year (he already spent 19 with the Philadelphia Phillies). Limiting his time on the roster buys the Red Sox an extra year of service time. Boston will now have Pivetta under team control for four seasons instead of three.
Perhaps most importantly, Pivetta needed time to build up to a starter’s workload after the Phillies had banished him to the bullpen earlier this year. He needed to be stretched out by throwing simulated games in Pawtucket before he could join the rotation.
This time at the alternate site also gave Pivetta an opportunity to work on commanding all four of his pitches. He didn’t necessarily need all four of them when working as a reliever but trusting his full arsenal is essential for him to be effective as a starter.
On the same day that Pivetta impressed in his Red Sox debut, Brandon Workman served up a walk-off home run to blow the game for the Phillies. Workman has already been tagged with three losses and two blown saves while producing a 6.39 ERA since moving to Philadelphia. We don’t want to overreact to one start by calling Pivetta’s acquisition a win for the Red Sox, but given his potential and how much Workman has struggled, it’s clear this is a trade that Boston isn’t going to lose.