With a week until Opening Day, Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler shared two noteworthy nuggets Wednesday.
According to NBC Sports Philadelphia‘s Jim Salisbury, Kapler plans for Nick Pivetta to start the second game of the season, with Jake Arrieta tabbed to start the third. MLB.com‘s Todd Zolecki suggested Arrieta, who had previously been expected to be the Phillies No. 2 starter, will start the third game of the season because it’s on ESPN‘s Sunday Night Baseball.
Pivetta has been nothing short of amazing this spring. So far, he has a 3.31 ERA in 16.1 innings, giving up six runs while striking out 14. Hitters have just a .179 average against Pivetta, who also has a 0.92 WHIP. Pivetta has attacked hitters with his fastball – which has hit 99 mph at times this spring – and mixed in his breaking pitches well. Pivetta has picked up the pace that he works at as well. He’s also spent some time working on his strikeout hops:
Nick Pivetta, Nasty Curveball and K Hop. 🐇 pic.twitter.com/VhIaH26m55
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 20, 2019
Back in October, I discussed some of the possible young players who could take that next step forward this season. For Pivetta, I highlighted how he has continued to work on his secondary pitches. Pivetta managed to greatly improve the swing-and-miss percentage of his curveball in 2018, taking it from about 26 percent to close to 35 percent. He also managed to increase the usage percentage of his changeup and four-seamer. As displayed above, it’s clear he’s still improving his pitching repertoire.
The Phillies, who didn’t add any pitchers to their starting rotation this offseason, are counting on Pivetta to take a major step forward in 2019. The 26-year-old righty was part of the four-fifths of the Phillies starting rotation that posted an ERA north of five after the All-Star Break in 2018.
It’s interesting that the move appears to be specifically because of Sunday Night Baseball. Arrieta, a National League former Cy Young winner, is more used to prime time games than Pivetta is. Pivetta did pitched in a Sunday evening game last season – the Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. In that game, Pivetta lasted just 3.2 innings, giving up six runs against the New York Mets.
In addition to learning about how the front-half of the Phillies starting rotation will look like, Zolecki noted that Andrew McCutchen will be leading off for the Phillies, taking the spot away from Cesar Hernandez, who will likely hit sixth or seventh now. McCutchen, who the Phillies inked to a three-year/$45 million deal this past offseason, walked 95 times in 2018.
McCutchen has a career slash line of .274/.367/.469 in 285 games when batting first in the lineup, along with 40 home runs, 136 RBIs, 52 stolen bases and 154 walks. Of course, the 32-year-old McCutchen, while still productive, isn’t the same player that won the National League MVP in 2013. McCutchen does have more pop than Hernandez, though. He’s hit at least 20 home runs every season since 2011.
After finishing the season with a lineup that seemingly changed every game, Kapler appears set on what the first five spots in his order will look like just about every game. McCutchen will lead off, Jean Segura will hit second and Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto will make up the heart of the order.
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