SAN DIEGO — For 96 pitches, Nick Pivetta embodied the maddening process that is a young pitcher’s development. The Phillies rookie righthander struck out eight of the first 10 batters he faced Wednesday afternoon. No Padres hitter put a ball in play until Manuel Margot flied out to center for the third out in the third inning.
“It looked to me,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said, “like Pivetta was going to have a Kerry Wood performance.”
But Pivetta could not record an out in the sixth inning of a 3-0 loss.
The Phillies were swept by one of the few teams in baseball that owns a worse run differential than them. It was a good three days for draft-pick positioning, less so for sanity. Clayton Richard, one of the worst pitchers in baseball, fired a complete-game shutout. He had allowed 188 hits in 24 starts before Wednesday. The Phillies mustered three hits against him. The lineup is muted without its two most productive hitters, Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr. It showed.
Richard, who turns 34 next month, registered his first shutout since 2012. With these nine innings, he pushed his ERA below 5.00.
There are 44 more games to play.
Pivetta achieved a career high with 11 strikeouts. But, once a Padres hitter reached base, chaos ensued. San Diego took seven extra bases with Pivetta on the mound. Five were on stolen bases. One was on a balk. Another came on a passed ball by Cameron Rupp.
“It was frustrating,” Pivetta said. “That happens. I wasn’t mixing my holds, I guess, enough. Something I need to work on. Something I can learn from.”
“I’m not happy with all of the stolen bases,” Mackanin said. “It’s embarrassing to me.”
The Phillies had not permitted five stolen bases in a game since May 30, 2013. Carlos Asuaje started the fourth inning Wednesday with a hustle double to center. Wil Myers, with two outs, singled to left. Asuaje scored. Then Myers assumed control of the game.
Pivetta did not peek at Myers on first. Myers, with a great jump, swiped second base. Pivetta paid no attention to him there. So he stole third. Austin Hedges walked. He attempted to steal second, and Rupp threw there. Hedges drew a rundown, which allowed Myers to dash for home. He stole that, too. Cesar Hernandez fired wide to the plate. The entire play warranted a face-palm.
“What do you do?” Rupp said. “You make a good throw, he doesn’t handle it, it’s part of it. The double steal, I don’t know what we do on that. The other two — one I bobbled. I didn’t have a good, clean transfer. The one to third, I didn’t have a chance on.”
It’s not as if opponents have run wild on the Phillies; with the five successful steal attempts Wednesday, teams have stolen at a 73.6 percent clip against them. That is right near the league average. Seventeen teams, entering the day, had permitted more stolen bases than the Phillies.
Pivetta, before Wednesday, had been on the mound for two stolen bases. He throws hard, and he throws his fastball often. That is not an ideal recipe for running. But the Padres timed Pivetta and exploited a weakness.
He discovered something with his breaking balls early in the game. Eight of his 11 strikeouts came on breaking pitches.
“They’re an aggressive team,” Pivetta said. “I wanted to make sure I got my off-speed over for strikes.”
The Phillies wanted him to improve that. So they were pleased he did.
“You saw it,” Rupp said. “It doesn’t matter the ballclub. You can say, ‘Well, they were swinging at everything.’ But you know what? They weren’t swinging at crazy pitches. They were strikes and they were swinging through them.”
But, with more looks at him, the Padres cracked Pivetta’s puzzle.
“He’s going to be good,” Mackanin said. “He needs to learn how to sustain that through more than five or six innings. That’s when you get to be a real solid starter.”