NEW YORK — The rain fell harder Wednesday night at Citi Field. The bases were loaded. Catcher Cameron Rupp patted his pitcher, Nick Pivetta, on the back. The rookie’s slog continued.
“I felt really good coming into this game,” Pivetta said after a 6-3 loss to the Mets that was ended in the bottom of the sixth inning. “Really confident.”
Sometimes, the prospects shine. And, sometimes, it rains. The Phillies have asked Pivetta to learn big-league lessons every fifth day; few teams in baseball would allow a young right-hander to endure the regular beatings Pivetta has. But these are the rebuilding Phillies, desperate for a hint of pitching advancement.
So nights like this rain-shortened defeat are part of it. Pivetta allowed six runs in five innings. He is a cocksure, 24-year-old Canadian who has insisted this season will contribute to his eventual growth. But this is not a pleasant existence for someone who has enjoyed success for most of his life and can throw a baseball 97 mph.
The Phillies like Pivetta because he has shown mental toughness — and because he can throw a baseball 97 mph. That could separate him from the pile of back-end starters the Phillies have built. It could at least lead to a bullpen role. But that is the last resort; the Phillies crave starters and they will exhaust Pivetta’s potential until better options materialize.
“He looks like he’s unfazed by it,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said of Pivetta’s season. “He’s not happy about it. That’s a good sign.”
Besides the nightly prospect peek — Nick Williams crushed a two-run homer in the sixth inning before the rain delay — there is little drama that remains for these Phillies. The last four weeks are a time for every starting pitcher not named Nola to generate a lasting impression before a winter that figures to involve quite a bit of roster shuffling.
The latest misstep left Pivetta with a 6.49 ERA in 22 starts this season. There are just four rookie pitchers since 1901 with at least 22 starts who have posted higher ERAs. They were: Texas’s Colby Lewis (7.30, 2003), Baltimore’s Garrett Olson (6.65, 2008), Cleveland’s Ryan Drese (6.55, 2002) and Baltimore’s Jason Berken (6.54, 2009).
“I don’t think it’s anything to panic about,” Pivetta said. “I don’t want to panic because I’m young. I hate saying it, but I’m young. There’s a lot of good things I can build on. I’ve proved I can build on a lot of good things.”
Pivetta has failed to pitch beyond five innings in 14 of his 22 starts. He needed a career-high 111 pitches Wednesday for 15 outs. He threw strikes, but not enough of them were quality pitches. He did not walk a batter for the first time in 10 starts. But New York clubbed 10 hits.
It must be difficult to be humbled so often.
“Without question,” Mackanin said.
The Phillies have deemed Pivetta capable of compartmentalizing it.
“It’s good for some and not so good for others,” Mackanin said. “That’s why it’s so tough to make decisions on when to call guys up because you want to make sure certain guys can handle failure.”
One day, Pivetta said, he will look back at this and remember it simply as a rookie’s struggles.
“It’s not easy for me, but I’m a positive person,” Pivetta said. “There’s no point in really saying this is the end of the world because I’m in a very good position. I’m in a very good organization. I’ve got a lot of great guys around me. I know it’s frustrating, especially for the team, when I go out there and give up six runs.”
He has four more starts in 2017 to generate better feelings.