He idolized a great Phillies pitcher, now Nick Pivetta hopes to become one

He idolized a great Phillies pitcher, now Nick Pivetta hopes to become one

Hockey is the No. 1 sport for many Canadian kids.

It wasn’t for Nick Pivetta.

In the land of skates and pucks, he was always a baseball kid.

As a youngster growing up on Canada’s West Coast, Pivetta made sure to be in front of the television at 4 p.m. most days. The Toronto Blue Jays, playing three times zones away, were must-see TV for him — especially if his favorite player was on the mound.

“Roy Halladay was my idol,” said Pivetta, himself a big right-hander, just like Halladay. “I grew up watching him. When I got home from school they’d be starting their games and I’d watch all of them.”

Pivetta, who turns 24 next month, is one of the Phillies' top pitching prospects. He and a handful of the team’s most advanced minor-leaguers are in town this week to take part in the club’s annual wintertime seminar designed to prepare top prospects for some of the behind-the-scene realities of big-league life.

On Wednesday, the players were assigned lockers in the Phillies' clubhouse for a media availability session. When it was pointed out to Pivetta that his locker was just a couple away from the one formerly occupied by Jonathan Papelbon, the man he was traded for two summers ago, he responded with some intel of his own.

“I heard Roy used to sit here,” he said.

Lo and behold, he was right.

In a stroke of pure coincidence, Pivetta’s nameplate was fastened above the locker that Halladay called home during the four seasons he spent with the Phillies after his trade from Toronto in December 2009.

Pivetta was thrilled by this little bit of serendipity.

“It’s surreal,” he said.

Pivetta was originally selected by the Washington Nationals in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. He was in the middle of his second full season in the Nats’ system when he was traded to the Phillies for Papelbon. Pivetta struggled in seven starts at Double A Reading after the July 2015 trade but rebounded nicely in 2016. He went 11-6 with a 3.41 ERA in 22 starts at Reading before jumping to Triple A and registering a 2.55 ERA in his final five starts of the season. His walk rate went from 4.0 per nine innings in 2015 to 3.1 in 2016.

His strong season and the potential for more earned him a spot on the 40-man roster.

Being traded can be jarring to a young minor-leaguer and it was to Pivetta. But he has come to love the move and the opportunity he has in the Phillies organization.

“I believe the trade changed me for the better, 100 percent,” he said. “It’s an experience I really needed to go through as a human being. I needed to step out of my comfort zone. I was comfortable with the Nationals. When I came here I really didn’t know too many people and stepping out of that comfort zone myself and connecting with all these new players and meeting a new coaching staff changed me in all the right ways. It made me grow up. I became more of a man and more of an adult in how to approach life.”

Joe Jordan, the Phillies’ director of player development, saw the new maturity in Pivetta last season.

“In 2016 he showed us the potential to be a really good major-league pitcher,” Jordan said. “He was a little excitable after the trade in 2015, but he came back calm and confident last year. His stuff is legit — 93 to 96 (mph) with life on the fastball, good breaking ball and good feel for the changeup.”

Pivetta, who stands 6-5 and weighs 220 pounds, likes to throw a two-seam fastball or sinker. He learned just how effective that pitch can be by watching Halladay on TV as a kid.

“I loved watching how Roy competed, how he was a true professional, how he did everything right,” Pivetta said. “I throw a two-seamer and I used to love to watch how he could command that pitch on both sides of the plate and how he really cut down on his walks. He didn’t walk anybody. I’ve struggled with my walks, but I want to become that pitcher. I want to succeed like he did.”

The Phillies have assembled some decent starting pitching depth. On paper, the big-league rotation figures to consist of Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz, Vince Velasquez and either Aaron Nola or Zach Eflin, depending on health. Behind this group is Jake Thompson, Adam Morgan, Alec Asher, Ben Lively, Mark Appel, Ricardo Pinto and Pivetta. It’s unclear how all the starting slots will be filled in the upper levels of the system — that will shake out in Clearwater in March — but it seems that Pivetta has a good shot to return to Triple A and build on what he did there over the final month of the 2016 season.

Pivetta is eager to get to Clearwater for his first big-league spring training camp. He will leave the team in early March to join Team Canada for the World Baseball Classic. A native of Victoria, British Columbia and a veteran of Canada’s international junior teams, he is expected to hold down a spot in the team’s starting rotation.

“It’ll be my first time with the senior team,” Pivetta said with an eager smile. “I’m so excited to be able to represent my country and play for Team Canada.”

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's turn to face West Coast woes

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's turn to face West Coast woes

Phillies (43-77) at Giants (50-74)
9:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies dropped their sixth straight game Friday night and fell to 0-5 on their West Coast road trip. The last-place Giants raced out to a quick lead against Zach Eflin and beat the Phils handily, 10-2.

Jerad Eickhoff, who left with the Phillies leading Monday, looks to continue his recent success against Ty Blach and the Giants in a Saturday night affair.

Here are five things to know for the game.

1. Eickhoff quietly improving
You wouldn't know it just looking at his 4.33 ERA, but Eickhoff has put together a strong stretch in recent weeks.

In his last five starts, which dates back to July 23, he's thrown 28 2/3 innings with allowing just nine earned runs, good for a 2.83 ERA. In that span, he's notched three quality starts and has 25 strikeouts. While he's limited opponents to just one home run, he's still walked 12. He's lowered his ERA by half a run in this time.

You certainly have to factor in the level of competition. Beyond a struggling yet potent Milwaukee offense, he pitched against Atlanta twice, a weak Angels lineup (which does feature Mike Trout) and the lackluster Padres. The Giants aren't much better, so it's not hard to see him extending his recent success. 

Eickhoff's mini-roll has been easy to overlook with Aaron Nola's dominant summer and Eickhoff being a 27-year-old on a team looking toward even younger players. But you can't forget that he was their best starter last season and should be able to hit at least 150 innings, a year after throwing 197 1/3. 

He's no ace, but that's not what he's asked to be. He's an average to slightly above-average starter and there's plenty of value in that. And if you're comparing him to last season, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is actually better in 2017 than 2016, indicating he's been a little unlucky this year.

Eickhoff started against Blach in June and put together his worst start of the season, giving up 11 baserunners and five runs while recording just eight outs. He didn't give up any home runs, but he walked five batters and struck out just two. 

Denard Span went 3 for 3 vs. Eickhoff while Eduardo Nunez, who's since been traded, was 2 for 2 with a walk. Blach even walked twice in two plate appearances.

2. Back with Blach
While Eickhoff had his worst start of the year against Blach and the Giants, Blach had one of the best, if not the best, starts of his young career (the other option being eight innings of shutout ball vs. the Dodgers down the stretch last season). 

He threw a seven-hit shutout. He struck out four, walked none and needed 112 pitches to dispatch the Phillies in just five batters more than the minimum. He was the first of three pitchers (Carlos Martinez, Clayton Richard) to throw shutouts against the Phillies this season.

And the soft-tossing lefty started out the season in the bullpen. He made four appearances (two starts) down the stretch in 2016 and was filling a minor role in the Giants' bullpen this April. However, he was given a full-time spot in the rotation once Madison Bumgarner injured his shoulder, and he hasn't looked back.

He leads all rookies with 134 innings pitched. He's 14th out of 34 rookie starters in ERA (4.37) but he's fourth in wins above replacement (WAR), likely because of his durability and his innings total as much as his effectiveness.

Outside of his gem at Citizens Bank Park, he's been quite hittable on the road. Home is where he's been at his best with a 3.60 ERA compared to a 5.50 mark away from AT&T Park. That's because he doesn't strike many batters out, walks only a few, and really relies on his fielders. Therefore, he's a great beneficiary of playing at one of the most extreme pitcher's parks in baseball, where a fly-ball pitcher like Blach can truly excel. 

The 26-year-old southpaw works off a 90-mph fastball and 80-mph changeup, working in a 12-6 curve and occasional slider.

Cesar Hernandez and Cameron Rupp each picked up two hits against Blach in June, while Maikel Franco had one as well (Howie Kendrick had the other two).

3. Don't go west, young men
When the Phillies have traveled to the opposite coast this season, their destiny has manifested itself in plenty of misfortune and poor play. 

After the 10-2 loss Friday night, they are now 4-16 west of Texas, suffering sweeps at the hands of the Dodgers, Angels and Padres. They also went 2-5 combined against the Rockies and Diamondbacks, salvaging a two-game sweep against the Mariners in their western escapades. 

A lot of it's easy to parse out: Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies are all playoff teams. Angels are currently tied for the second wild card in the American League. 

But the showing this week has been especially painful. The Phils took two of three from the Giants in June, one of their rare series wins, and the Padres are a team that isn't designed to compete in 2017. These aren't just the worst teams in the NL West, they're two of the worst in baseball and the Phillies are cementing themselves in the cellar of the National League with this poor trip out west.

In San Diego and San Francisco, they've been outscored, 33-14, by the teams that are 28th and 30th, respectively, in OPS. 

Luckily for the Phils, they've got no more West Coast trips left after this weekend and only 14 of their last 40 games are on the road. That's plenty of games at CBP, where they are a much more respectable 24-31 (compared to 19-46 on the road).

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Rhys Hoskins is just 2 for 12 with three walks against left-handed pitchers, but both hits are home runs. 

Giants: After going 2 for 4 Friday night with a double and home run, Hunter Pence has a six-game hitting streak going. He has six multi-hit games this month and is batting .351 in August.

5. This and that
• The Phillies have faced 19 teams this year and have a winning record against only one of them (Atlanta).

• Checking in with some recent former Phillies: Jeremy Hellickson allowed five home runs to the Angels on Friday night, including one to New Jersey's own Trout.

• Now with the Nationals, Kendrick has hit even better than he did with the Phillies. Going into Friday's action, he had a .353/.400/.667 batting line with four home runs.

• Pat Neshek has struck out seven batters in 6 1/3 innings, but he's allowed five runs (three earned). He's given up 10 hits, though he's yet to walk a batter.

• Lastly, Joaquin Benoit has had a rough go of it in Pittsburgh. He has an 11.81 ERA, giving up nine runs (seven earned) in just 5 1/3 innings. The 40-year-old reliever has as many hit-by-pitches as strikeouts with the Pirates.

Zach Eflin leaves with sore shoulder as Phillies' California woes continue

Zach Eflin leaves with sore shoulder as Phillies' California woes continue

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The state of California has become the state of despair for the Phillies.

They fell to 0-11 in the state after a 10-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Friday night (see Instant Replay).

The Phils suffered three-game sweeps against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, the Angels in Anaheim and the Padres in San Diego. They have now lost the first two of a four-game series against the Giants in the northern part of the state.

Friday night's defeat was the Phillies' sixth straight, dropping them to a season-high 34 games under .500. They are 19-46 on the road and 6-22 against the National League West.

The loss was embarrassing because the Phils were held to one hit over seven scoreless innings by the pitcher with the highest ERA in the NL. Giants lefty Matt Moore entered with an ERA of 5.71. The Phils finished with just four hits, all singles.

The loss may also have been costly because starting pitcher Zach Eflin, one of the young pitchers the Phillies would like to build around, gave up seven hits and six runs and had to leave the game after five innings with discomfort in the back of his right shoulder. Earlier this season, Eflin, 23, missed time with an elbow strain.

Eflin said he'd felt soreness in the back of this shoulder before.

"This is a little different than I've had before," Eflin said. "It's just kind of a steady tightness. It's something I wasn't comfortable continuing with. I don't think it's anything serious. It's more of a precautionary thing."

The shoulder tightness didn't affect Eflin's velocity. He threw breaking balls early in the game and gave up three runs in the first inning. In the fourth inning, he used his four-seam fastball and hit 96 mph on the radar gun while getting three quick outs. Manager Pete Mackanin said he'd like to see more of that from Eflin. Of course, now it's safe to wonder when Eflin will pitch again. The Phils will surely be careful with him.

The Phillies are already making some adjustments to their starting rotation. Right-hander Ben Lively will be recalled from Triple A to take Odubel Herrera's spot on the roster. Herrera went on the disabled list with a sore left hamstring (see story). Lively will start against the Giants on Sunday while scheduled starter Mark Leiter Jr. goes to the bullpen.

The Phillies were never in Friday night's game. They got three of their four hits and both of their runs (on a bloop hit by Freddy Galvis) in the eighth inning and the Giants came back and scored four in the bottom of the inning.

Rookie catcher Jorge Alfaro had the Phillies' first two hits of the game, the only two that Moore gave up. Moore (4-12) earned his first win since June 20.

In a span of three days, the Phillies have been held to two runs over 16 1/3 innings by a pair of lefties with high ERAs. They were shut out by Clayton Richard in San Diego on Wednesday. He entered that game with a 5.14 ERA.

"It's frustrating when you look up at the numbers and you see that," Mackanin said. "You kind of hope we can get to the guy. But for whatever reason, the bats are just silent right now."

The Phillies' offense has been bad all season, but it has been especially bad lately. Over the last nine games, they have scored just 25 runs, an average of 2.8 per game. The Phils are 1-8 in those contests.