Phils rookie Pettibone earning praise from teammates

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Phils rookie Pettibone earning praise from teammates

When Roy Halladay went on the DL for seven weeks last season, the Phillies fell apart. They went 15-27, largely because the starting pitchers failed to step up in his absence. Cliff Lee had a 4.99 ERA while Halladay was out. Joe Blanton was at 5.02. Kyle Kendrick, 5.72.

This time, the Phils appear to be better prepared for life without Doc.

Jonathan Pettibone, who joined the rotation when John Lannan got hurt and is occupying a larger role with Halladay out, has pitched remarkably well as a rookie. He allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings Tuesday to improve to 3-0 with a 3.41 ERA in five starts (see Instant Replay). He’s the first Phillie since Randy Wolf in 1999 to begin his career 3-0 while pitching exclusively as a starter.

Pettibone has kept the Phillies in each game he’s pitched, not allowing more than three runs in any start. The Phils have won four of his five outings and, even if things looked bleak early on Tuesday, he minimized damage long enough for the bats to come around.

“I'd say for this being the first time he's in the major leagues, I think he's doing a tremendous job,” manager Charlie Manuel said of his 22-year-old rookie.

“Pettibone pitched brilliantly,” added Kevin Frandsen, who homered and got on base three times filling in for Chase Utley at second base. “What he did -- he never gave in, just kept us in there. He could've let it go when we were down 2-1, but he kept fighting, fighting, fighting, and made great pitches. More than anything, the hitting will come around, but that's a stud right there. He didn't back down as a rookie. That's awesome.”

After a 1-2-3 first inning, Pettibone put runners on second and third with nobody out. He had excelled out of the stretch in his first four starts, stranding 87 percent of the men he put on base, but this time Michael Brantley got to him, singling in both runners to give the Indians a one-run lead. Two strikeouts later, the inning was over.

In the third, Pettibone again got into trouble, walking Jason Kipnis and then hitting Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana to load the bases. (The last Phillies pitcher to hit back-to-back batters was Chad Durbin on May 6, 2010.) But again, Pettibone made his pitches and got Mark Reynolds to pop out to end the threat.

After that, smooth sailing. Pettibone kept the Indians at bay long enough for John Mayberry and Domonic Brown to stake the Phillies to a two-run lead that eventually grew to four.

“Escaping with no runs, especially after that second inning, giving up two, you don't want to dig too big a hole that early in the game,” Pettibone said of escaping trouble in the third. “Getting out of that inning, I was able to build off that for the rest of the game.”

“Those mistakes by a young guy, they can just snowball,” Frandsen said. “But it just made him better. And that’s one of those cool situations as a teammate. I would never call myself old, but being around this game for a long time, that was awesome.”

Manuel yanked Pettibone with two outs in the seventh inning, ending the longest start of his young career. The righty wanted to keep going – he had thrown just 92 pitches – but a pair of lefties were coming up and Manuel opted for Antonio Bastardo.

Going deep into games is something Pettibone prides himself on. He always has. He didn’t want to come out.

“Last outing, I think I was at 110-plus [pitches] and I felt fine,” Pettibone said. “So anywhere around that kind of pitch count, you're good. Especially with adrenaline late in the game, the close ball game, you don't feel any fatigue, or anything, really. You're ready to go.”

That mentality is what impressed Frandsen about Pettibone from the time Pettibone was a 19-year-old in Single A.

“I saw him -- I guess it was an unfortunate situation where I was suspended and went down to Clearwater and I was rehabbing there two years ago -- and the first thing I said when I came back to Lehigh was, 'That kid is the best of the three,’” Frandsen recalled, referring back to Pettibone, Jarred Cosart and Trevor May. (Cosart was dealt to Houston for Hunter Pence, and May to Minnesota for Ben Revere.)

“They talked about the big three, but [Pettibone] pitched with some stones. I feel like as a young, 19-20-year-old at that time … that's different. Especially in A-ball, you can go for the strikeout every time, but he was worried about going deep into games. That takes precedence over anything.”

It certainly did on Tuesday in a close game. The Phillies were without Mike Adams (back spasms), but Pettibone got them deep enough and a beleaguered bullpen finally stranded its inherited runners (see story).

It was one of the most complete games the Phillies have played all year, and it was exactly the way they wanted to open a five-game homestand against two Ohio teams that embarrassed them on the road last month.

Cole Hamels takes the hill Wednesday, looking to pick up where the 22-year-old rookie with “stones” left off.

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies and Atlanta Braves are both rebuilding teams that have looked to acquire as much pitching as possible over the last few seasons.

The Phillies added Nick Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington two years ago. The Braves picked up Luiz Gohara from Seattle back in January.

If both pitchers continue to develop, there's a chance they could face each other in a National League division race someday. 

On Sunday, they squared off in a battle of teams playing out the string, but the intensity of the matchup was good. That can happen in the penultimate weekend of the season. After all, impressions can be made right up until the final pitch of the season. Players are always auditioning, especially rookies hoping to win spots next season.

Pivetta, 24, made a very nice showing. He out-pitched Gohara in helping the Phillies salvage one game of the three-game series against the Braves with a 2-0 win (see observations).

Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr keyed a just-enough Phillies' offense with a solo homer and an RBI double and the bullpen triumvirate of Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris combined for three scoreless innings to seal the shutout.

Pivetta pitched six shutout innings, walked one and struck out four. He gave up five hits. It's been an up-and-down season for the rookie right-hander. There's been a lot of on-the-job training and a few bruisings. He is 7-10 with a 6.26 ERA in 25 starts. He has allowed just two runs in 12 innings over his last two starts, so he's finishing the season on a high note.

"The key to his outing today was that he was throwing all his pitches for strikes," manager Pete Mackanin said. "His breaking ball and his changeup, he really did a good job with them, throwing them ahead in the count and behind in the count, so that was key.

"This is the place to learn. You can have a lot of success in the minor leagues but when you get up here it's a different animal. The best place to learn is at the big-league level and take your lumps and learn from them. Now, if you have too many guys like that you don’t win a lot of games, so you can afford to have one or maybe two guys in the rotation that are feeling their way through it, but not more than that."

Forced to the majors by injuries in the rotation early in the season, Pivetta has often talked about the learning experience his first year in the majors has been.

He was happy to talk about getting a victory Sunday.

"It's been nice," he said. "I've settled down a little the last two starts. Today, I just tried to do the right things — get ahead of hitters. And the guys played great defense behind me.

"Even when I had runners on base, I was able to attack the hitters the way I wanted and I didn't put too much pressure on myself."

That's not always easy for a rookie pitcher in a close game. Pivetta's ability to stay cool and pitch around baserunners in the fifth and sixth innings was a sign of his improvement. He will have one more start before the season ends and is looking to build on two good ones and go into the offseason with a healthy dose of confidence. He will be a candidate for a spot in the rotation next spring.

Sunday's victory left the Phillies at 62-94. They need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses. That once seemed to be a certainty, but they have played well since the All-Star break, recording a 33-36 record since then. They were 29-58 before the break.

Young players such as Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins have come up from the minors and given the Phils a lift in recent weeks. The bullpen has also improved with Ramos, Morgan, Neris and Luis Garcia (before Saturday night) pitching well. Morgan pitched a scoreless eighth inning Sunday. He has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Neris is 18 for 18 in save opportunities since June 28.

The only run that the Phils scored against Gohara came in the fifth when Franco smacked a first-pitch changeup into the left-field seats for his 21st homer. The pitch was on the middle-half of the plate, Franco's happy zone.

Franco is hitting .308 with three homers and seven RBIs since J.P. Crawford came up and applied a little competitive heat.

Franco said that's coincidence, that he's focused only on what he needs to do to get better.

"I think when those young guys come up it always creates an energy spurt in everybody," Mackanin said. "For whatever reason, if Maikel is having a good September, I hope it carries through for five or six months next year. One month does not a good year make. Hopefully, he'll have a better approach and he's going to be more successful."

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Phillies rookie Nick Pivetta outpitched Atlanta Braves rookie Luiz Gohara Sunday afternoon as the Phils salvaged the final game of a three-game series with a 2-0 win at steamy SunTrust Park.
 
Maikel Franco smacked his 21st homer and Aaron Altherr had an RBI double for the Phillies' two runs.
 
Pivetta (7-10) pitched six shutout innings and the bullpen did the rest.
 
The Phillies ended up with a 13-6 record against Atlanta this season, their best against any team.
 
• Pivetta has mostly struggled in 25 starts in his rookie season, but he's also had some very nice outings where his potential has really shined. This was one of them. His last start, in which he gave up two runs in six innings against the Dodgers, was a good one, too. So the right-hander seems to be finishing on a high note. He will have one more start before the end of the season. In a perfect world, Pivetta would have gotten more time at Triple A this season, but there was a need in the majors. Ultimately, he should benefit from his baptism by fire.
 
• Atlanta lefty Gohara was very good in his fourth big-league start. The 21-year-old from Brazil gave up just five hits, walked two and struck out nine. The only run he gave up came on Franco's homer.
 
• Pivetta did a good job pitching around trouble. He got two outs in the second inning after an error by Franco put a runner on second. He also pitched around sloppy infield play in the fifth. In the sixth, Pivetta knocked down a ball back to the box but was unable to start a double play. He stayed calm and got two outs to get out of the inning.
 
• The Phillies took a 1-0 lead on a solo homer by Franco in the top of the fifth. Franco turned on a first-pitch changeup from Gohara. The pitch was on the inside half of the plate — right in Franco's happy zone. Franco pulls off pitches away in the zone, but he kills mistakes inside. Franco will work on this flaw in winter ball this season (see story).
 
• Altherr doubled home an important insurance run for the Phillies in the eighth inning. Altherr has 61 RBIs on the season and 27 have come in the seventh inning or later.
 
• Good job by the Phillies' bullpen. Edubray Ramos and Adam Morgan pitched scoreless ball in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Morgan has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Hector Neris survived two hits in the ninth and picked up the save. He is perfect on is last 18 chances since June 28.

• The Phillies' first two hits of the game were singles to right field and both runners, Cesar Hernandez and Jorge Alfaro, were out trying to stretch at second base. Braves rightfielder Nick Markakis made two perfect throws. Hernandez needed to come out of the box quicker.
 
• The Phillies have a 35-40 record at home. They will play their final six games of the season at home beginning Monday night with the opener of a three-game series against the NL East champion Washington Nationals. Aaron Nola (12-10, 3.56) pitches against right-hander A.J. Cole (2-5, 4.43) on Monday night. Jake Thompson (2-2, 4.14) opposes lefty Gio Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68) on Tuesday night. Mark Leiter Jr. (3-6, 4.69) and right-hander Tanner Roark (13-10, 4.41) close out the series Wednesday night. The Phillies need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses.