May 24, 2019
No one really expected the Phillies to breeze through their current stretch of games against the best in the National League.
And after the squad narrowly found a way to split a four-game set with the Cubs in Wrigley, it is obvious that the Phillies pitching staff will likely continue to be a weakness.
The bullpen, which was awful at times, nearly blew three of the four games (they did actually blow one) and elicited a bevy of cries from fans and baseball pundits for some help (perhaps in the form of still un-signed Craig Kimbrel).
However, it appears the Phillies are looking to address the starting rotation first, as manager Gabe Kapler said he expects either Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta to start for the team Tuesday.
As a whole, the bullpen (3.95 ERA, 11th in MLB) has been slightly better than the starters (4.12 ERA, 14th in MLB), as incredibly inconsistent starts have been the story this season. With Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta etched into the rotation in stone and Jerad Eickhoff and Zach Eflin secure (for now) in their roles with the most reliable of the five starting slots, the fifth man is in flux.
After a one-run debut in seven frames, Cole Irvin gave up a big grand slam and looked shaky in his third big league start in Chicago. That was enough for the front office to decide to revert back to either Velasquez — rehabbing from a forearm strain — or Pivetta — relegated to the minors after a slow start in April.
While one or both may make more sense as bullpen pieces down the stretch, it sounds like at least one will take over as starter No. 5 next week.
Which one should it be?
Pivetta was dreadful in four starts this year at the MLB level, but has been lights out in Triple-A, going 4-1 with a 3.41 ERA. He has allowed just 22 hits in 37 innings. Does that make enough of a case for his call up?
Neither hurler, both 26-years-old, has a very impressive body of work. However, context matters. Pivetta has improved of late and has had many pontificating about his potential to be a staple in the big leagues. Here's what Baseball America said about Pivetta back in March — projecting him as a break out candidate for 2019:
Carlos Collazo: Nick Pivetta, Phillies. Pivetta took a big step forward in his second season in 2018, increasing his first-pitch strike percentage and adding a sinker and cutter to complement his breaking pitches. He was 13th in K-BB% in 2018 (19.7), a big improvement from 2017 (14.2%) while getting more whiffs across the board, both inside and out of the zone. [Baseball America]
The Phillies are probably not giving up on him as a starter. Additionally, if Pivetta takes the hill Tuesday, it might benefit the Phillies as a whole more thoroughly. Why? Because Velasquez and his closer-like fastball could then find the bullpen to help give a lift to a unit obviously in need of one.
Velasquez has, in his career spanning 435.2 innings, struck out 471 batters to 172 walks. His fastball has sat around 95 mph this season and he has an out pitch with his slider. Velasquez in the pen makes sense — as he has the stuff to pitch in clutch spots but the stamina to pitch more than one inning if needed.
We'll see what the team ultimately decides to do after their sure to be grueling three-game set in Milwaukee this weekend, but there does seem to be a recipe for getting both Pivetta and Velasquez into key roles for the Phillies as the summer approaches.
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