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May 05, 2017

Pivetta can't keep Nats in the park, slumping Phillies drop fourth straight

When we last saw the Phillies, they were baseball’s hottest team.

They were getting consistent starting pitching and timely hitting. They had won six straight games and were off to their best start of a season after 20 games since 2011.

This was eight days ago, before they left Citizens Bank Park for a litmus test of a road trip through the two oldest ballparks in the National League, home to the two teams that played for the opportunity to represent the league in the World Series seven months ago.

“When you play against tough teams like we’ve done in the last week or so… it will give you a pretty good feel for where your team stands,” general manager Matt Klentak said Friday afternoon. “And we went toe-to-toe with both the Dodgers and the Cubs. If you guys watched the games, you saw it, we were in every one of those games, I think we had a lead in every game, I could be wrong but I think we did. [Editor’s note: They did].

“We didn’t get the bounces of the breaks at the end of the game. That’s something we as an organization will have to learn how to win, how to overcome adversity and beat tough teams. But I can’t fault the heart and the hustle this team showed. It’s been impressive.”

Still, you know what happened. They had one win, sandwiched between three losses on either end of the trip.

And it turned out to be more of the same when they came home, minus the thing where they at least had a lead at some point in the game. Nick Pivetta served up a hat trick of home runs – a 404-foot shot to Stephen Strasburg in the second and back-to-back blows by Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon in the fifth – as Washington power passed the Phils 4-2 on Friday night in South Philly.

"They kind of sucked," Pivetta said of the consecutive home runs in the fifth, which doubled the Nationals lead. "That was a big turning point for the game. If I would have executed those pitches, it would have given the team a better chance to win the game."

Pivetta, making his second major league start in place of the injured Aaron Nola, came out pumping high-octane fastballs in his first game at Citizens Bank Park. His first three pitches came in at 95, 96, and 97-MPH.

But the Canadian-born right-hander, acquired two years ago from Washington in the Jonathan Papelbon trade, scuffled in the game’s opening inning and was lucky to escape trailing 1-0. For the second time in as many big league starts, Pivetta, who dominated the competition in Triple-A last month, allowed nine hits in five innings.

Three of those hits left the playing field. Strasburg and the Nats’ bullpen, meanwhile, held the Phillies to two runs. 


"Pivetta had good stuff coming out of his hand he just had poor location, had trouble locating his fastball inside to hitters and suffered with the long ball," manager Pete Mackanin said. 

Pivetta's start wasn't all bad. He did strike out six and didn't walk a batter. 

"He certainly has enough stuff to be successful," Mackanin said. "I think he’s going to be pretty good. But he had trouble locating all of his pitches, and when you don’t locate, it doesn’t matter how hard you throw. Pitching, especially at this level, boils down to locating pitches."

The 24-year-old pitcher concurred.

"You’re facing the best of the best all the time (in the big leagues), I just have to be better at executing my pitches in those certain situations," Pivetta said. "I just left a couple of balls up and they executed some good swings and that’s how it went. ... I think I could have mixed inside a little bit more, that could have helped me with those two home runs to Rendon and Zimmerman. Maybe if I worked inside more they wouldn’t have been able to lunge out and hit those balls that way."

A positive: Pivetta, who had just two walks in 19 innings over three starts in Triple-A, has walked just one, while striking out 11, in his first two major league starts. A negative: Pivetta has pitched just five innings in each of his first two starts, with his pitch count rising over 90 (and on Friday, to 101) too early.

"I’ve got to be better through getting through a game without 100 pitches in the fifth inning, I’ve got to get to that seventh or eighth inning, especially with us going 13 innings yesterday and having a travel day," he said. "That’s not really acceptable. It is my second start, I’ll give myself a little bit of a break right now. But what I did today doesn’t really show who I am as a pitcher."

Since leaving their friendly home confines eight days ago, the Phillies (12-16) have lost seven of their last eight games.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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