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.”

Dallas Green did it his way -- driving the Phillies mad, but to the top

Dallas Green did it his way -- driving the Phillies mad, but to the top

Whenever I think of Dallas Green, I think of that night. It was Oct. 21, 1980, the night the Phillies won their first World Series. Green was the manager, the old-school baseball lifer who dragged the Phillies through that summer like a father tugging a whining toddler to the dentist's office. He called them out and cussed them out and challenged them to be the best team in baseball.

On this South Philadelphia night, they finally were. They beat the Kansas City Royals, 4-1, to close out the series, four games to two.

Green was standing in his Veterans Stadium office, his head tilted to one side, his eyes closed, the phone pressed against his ear. He had one hand on the World Series trophy, the other on a freshly opened bottle of Great Western champagne. Flashbulbs were popping all around him. His wife Sylvia and their four children were wiping away tears. Suddenly, the manager's weary eyes snapped to attention.

"Thank you, Mr. President," Green said hearing the voice of Jimmy Carter calling from the White House. "Yes, we're all thrilled. The City of Philadelphia has waited a long time for this moment and we're all enjoying it. There were a lot of people who said we couldn't do it but I think we proved ourselves in this series. We played our hearts out to win this thing."

Green's conversation with the President lasted just a few minutes then he excused himself to rejoin the celebration in the clubhouse. He hugged general manager Paul Owens then went from locker to locker embracing each player, even the ones he feuded with during the season. The sweet taste of autumn champagne washed away the bruised feelings of summer.

"Along the way, I made a few guys unhappy," Green said. "I probably made a few guys miserable. But it was all for a reason."

He nodded toward the celebration.

"This is the reason," he said.

Green drove the Phillies that season, lashing them with his bullwhip tongue, benching veterans for rookies down the stretch, ignoring the grumbling and dirty looks. When Green said, "We're going to do this thing my way," he meant it. Many of the players who were used to the gentle hand of the previous manager Danny Ozark resented Green and made no attempt to hide it. In September they still were sniping at each other. Then, somehow, it all came together.

It was as if the team -- which had fallen short in other years and underachieved in the postseason -- won it all that year just so it could have the satisfaction of throwing that World Series confetti in its manager's face. If that's what it took -- and believe me, that was part of it -- it was fine with Green.

"I'm proud of all these guys, every one of them," Green said that night. "I'm including guys like Larry Bowa and Garry Maddox, guys I had my differences with during the season. When we needed them down the stretch, they busted their butts for this team. I told them in spring training we had the talent to go all the way. I said, 'Hey, we've got the personnel to win this thing but we're gonna do it my way.' There were some doubters in the group, there were those who resisted, but look where we are now."

To get some idea of what that season was like, picture this scene: It is Sunday, Aug. 11, a sweltering hot day in Pittsburgh. The Phillies have just lost the first game of a doubleheader, 7-1, to the Pirates. Green orders the clubhouse doors locked so the reporters are standing in the hallway. The manager launches into a profane rant that is so loud we can hear every word.

"You guys have got to stop being so (expletive) cool," Green bellowed. "Get that through your (expletive) heads. Get the (expletive) off your asses. You're a good (expletive) baseball team but you're not now and you can't look in the (expletive) mirror and tell me that you are. You tell me you can do it but you (expletive) give up.

"If you don't want to (expletive) play, come in my office and (expletive) tell me because I don't want to (expletive) play you."

When the clubhouse door opened, the reporters tiptoed in expecting to find the walls scorched and furniture broken. Instead, Green was sitting behind his desk, his jaw clenched but his voice calm.

"I'm not gonna let these guys quit on themselves," he said. "If I have to yell at them to get them going, I'll yell good and loud. I may not be doing this (leading the club) the right way but I'm doing it the only way I know how."

The Phillies went on to Chicago where they won two of three from the Cubs then to New York where they swept the Mets. The Phils rolled to the Eastern Division title then defeated Houston in a dramatic National League Championship Series and put away the Royals to claim their first world championship. The players had Big D's voice ringing in their ears every step of the way.

The night they won it, the night they finally reached the top of the mountain, Dallas Green enjoyed it more than anyone else. He grew up in Delaware, he was like family to the Carpenters who owned the team. He was a pitcher on the Phillies team that folded down the stretch in 1964. He carried those scars into a career in the front office and finally the dugout. Then came 1980 and the wild ride to the top.

"I know the players are happy and I'm happy as hell for them," Green said leaning against the clubhouse wall. "But they can't appreciate this the way I can. I've been a Phillie forever. I made a stop at every level in the organization: player, coach, manager, farm director. I have a feel for what this (win) means for all the people behind the scenes like the secretaries and the front office staff. I know how they feel right now.

"What do I feel? I feel drained. I feel as if I've given everything I've got to give. But, goddam, it feels good to be on top."

MLB Notes: Tigers star Miguel Cabrera could return soon from back stiffness

MLB Notes: Tigers star Miguel Cabrera could return soon from back stiffness

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera could soon return to the lineup after being sidelined by back stiffness.

Cabrera has been out since leaving the Dominican Republic's game last Saturday in the World Baseball Classic.

Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said Cabrera might play Friday against Atlanta.

"Just not going to rush it," Ausmus said before Wednesday's game against Toronto. "There's no reason to rush it. He's got plenty of at-bats. We'll see how he is on Friday."

Cabrera hit .316 with 38 homers and 108 RBIs last season.

Outfielder J.D. Martinez, who sprained his right foot making a shoestring catch Saturday, is scheduled to be re-examined Friday.

Martinez hit .307 last year with 22 home runs and 68 RBIs.

Blue Jays: Bautista says he is over lower back stiffness
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista says the lower back stiffness that prevented him from playing for the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic last weekend is no longer an issue.

Bautista was in the original lineup for Wednesday's spring training game against Detroit. But with an off-day Thursday, it was determined to have him play Friday instead.

"I'm feeling great," Bautista said. "I talked to the staff and it makes no sense to just kind of crank it up. Just take a day off."

Bautista is hopeful that his strong start, hitting .563 with two homers and six RBIs in six games before leaving for the WBC, will continue.

"I'm seeing the ball well and feeling good at the plate," Bautista said. "Just excited to be back in the swing of things with the guys, and looking forward to getting ready for the season” (see full story).

Twins: May has Tommy John surgery
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Minnesota Twins right-hander Trevor May has undergone Tommy John elbow surgery that will keep him off the mound this season.

The Twins announced on Wednesday that the replacement of May's torn ulnar collateral ligament was successful. The 27-year-old was transitioning back to starting, following a move to the bullpen halfway through the 2015 season.

With May's injury and their release on Tuesday of veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, the Twins are down to Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey and Adalberto Mejia in the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation.

May was placed on the 60-day disabled list, making room for the Twins to add left-hander Craig Breslow to the 40-man roster. The 36-year-old Breslow is among the finalists for a middle relief role.

Cardinals: Martinez to pitch on opening night
JUPITER, Fla. -- The St. Louis Cardinals have picked Carlos Martinez to start on opening night against the World Series champion Chicago Cubs.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told Martinez about the choice before he pitched Wednesday in an exhibition game against Washington.

The Cardinals host the NL Central rival Cubs on April 2.

Adam Wainwright had started the past four openers for the Cardinals. Matheny said Wainwright took the news well about Martinez getting the assignment this year.

The 25-year-old Martinez was an All-Star in 2015. He went 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA last year.