Throwing strikes has been key to Red Sox starter Nick Pivetta’s turnaround

Boston Red Sox starter Nick Pivetta is starting to get on a roll

Nick Pivetta earned his first win of the season on Friday as the Boston Red Sox defeated the Rangers 7-1 to open a series in Texas. The right-hander logged a season-high seven innings, holding the Rangers to one run on three hits and a walk while striking out four.

This victory snapped a personal seven-game losing streak for Pivetta over his previous 13 starts dating back to last season. He hadn’t been credited with a win since August 13, 2021 against Baltimore. It had been a while since Pivetta found himself in the win column but there have been signs over his last few starts that he was turning things around following a brutal start to this season.

First four starts: 16 1/3 innings, 15 earned runs, 19 hits, 13 walks, 16 strikeouts
Last three starts: 17 1/3 innings, 4 earned runs, 14 hits, 1 walk, 17 strikeouts

Pivetta would have been in danger of pitching himself out of the rotation if injuries hadn’t thinned the Red Sox pitching staff. A lack of depth afforded him a longer leash and Pivetta has taken advantage, building confidence with each encouraging outing.

As catcher Christian Vazquez noted during NESN’s postgame coverage, throwing strikes is the key to Pivetta’s success.

“I think strike one for him is very good,” said Vazquez. “When he goes walk, and walk and walk, he gets in trouble, but when he attacks the zone, it’s a different ballgame. Strike one is the key for him.”

When Pivetta was struggling throughout April, he was constantly falling behind, giving opposing hitters the luxury of a favorable count. His control issues led to an abundance of free passes that often came back to bite him. Pivetta walked at least two batters in all four of his April starts, including consecutive games with four walks.

Against the Rangers, Pivetta threw a first-pitch strike to 20 of the 25 batters he faced. 72% of his pitches overall were thrown for strikes. He walked one batter, the only free pass he’s issued over his last three starts, but even that plate appearance began with a first-pitch strike.

Pivetta’s velocity was down to begin the season, a concern that factored into his rough month of April. He averaged 94.8 mph on his four-seam fastball last year but his heater is averaging only 92.9 mph so far this season, per Baseball Savant.

He throws his fastball more than half the time but Pivetta isn’t going to blow hitters away with a four-seamer in the low-90s. When hitters aren’t having trouble catching up with the fastball, they are more likely to make hard contact. This explains why the 94.7 mph average exit velocity against his fastball is the highest he’s allowed with the pitch in his career. His overall 93.1 average exit velocity is the worst of his career and places him in the bottom 4% of the league while his career-high 50.5 Hard Hit% is in the bottom 7%.

Pivetta threw 39 four-seam fastballs against the Rangers, topping out at 94.2 mph and averaging 93 mph. The uptick in velocity is an encouraging sign for a pitcher who relies heavily on his fastball. If a lack of velocity prevents him from getting hitters to swing and miss, Pivetta isn’t able to challenge hitters in the zone with the four-seamer. That leads to nibbling on the corners, which inevitably results in a rising walk rate.

Pivetta credits the coaching staff for working with him to iron out his mechanical issues. He feels that he’s back in the “flow state” he was in last year and that has helped him develop consistency.

Consistency has long been a problem for Pivetta. He’s prone to the occasional meltdown but when he has his mechanics firing on all cylinders, Pivetta can be as dominant as anyone on the Red Sox pitching staff.