ATLANTA — The slog to this season’s finish line matched a Canadian righthander against a Brazilian lefthander, both with ERAs above 6.00 — but one rookie had a little more to prove Sunday than the other. Nick Pivetta has endured a beating.The native of Victoria, British Columbia, has vowed it will transform him into a better player. The Phillies believe in Pivetta’s fortitude, and that is why they have sent him to the mound every fifth day.
“I’ve settled down a little bit,” Pivetta said. “I kind of just stuck with it like I said I would.”
He has one more start in 2017 after a 2-0 win over the Braves. He could conclude his rookie season with happier feelings. Pivetta has permitted two runs in his last two starts (12 innings) with 12 strikeouts and three walks. He has lowered his ERA to 6.26 from 6.75. The Phillies have won five of the last six games he’s started.
So the Phillies, who entered the day tied for the worst record in baseball, salvaged a game here. Their 13 wins against the Braves this season were the team’s most since 2008. They are now 35-35 against National League East clubs with their final six at Citizens Bank Park against Washington and New York.
Just one Braves runner reached third base in six innings against Pivetta.
“This is the place to learn,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “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.”
The 24-year-old righthander ceded to a bullpen that held the slim margin. Edubray Ramos, compromised by inconsistent stretches, threw the ball well again. He has a 3.18 ERA since his recall Aug. 2, with 32 strikeouts and six walks in 22 2/3 innings. Adam Morgan, elevated to a setup role, pitched a scoreless eighth. He has a 2.23 ERA since June 17, with 47 strikeouts and 13 walks in 40 1/3 innings.
Then, in the ninth, Hector Neris converted his 18th straight save chance. Neris, 28, has a 3.14 ERA.
The Phillies could spend this winter on some bullpen upgrades, much like they did last winter by investing $18.2 million in Joaquin Benoit, Pat Neshek, and Jeanmar Gomez. The returns were mixed. Neris, Morgan and Ramos could form the nucleus of a young bullpen. But the addition of a veteran closer or setup man would make the unit even deeper.
“You have to be able to count on guys,” Mackanin said. “They have to be predictable. You have to know they’re going to be able to come in and be good four out of five times. You can’t be good half the time. That’s the key to success and that’s how you win games up here.”
Pivetta should come to spring training as part of the horde of young pitchers looking to secure a rotation spot. A great deal can and will happen between now and February. But Pivetta has pitched with a different mental approach. Maikel Franco generated a one-run lead with his solo homer to left in the fifth inning.
“I didn’t really feel like it was a one-run baseball game,” Pivetta said. “I felt like the guys were really swinging the bat well and it kind of felt like a 5-0 baseball game when I was out there. I had guys on base, but I felt confident. I was able to get the guys out, attack the hitters the way I want to, and I didn’t put too much pressure on myself.”
If that is the lesson Pivetta gleans from a trying rookie season, the tribulations could be worth it.