Nick Pivetta exited the Phillies’ clubhouse early Wednesday morning in a foul mood. That was fine, even understandable. It was more than three hours before the series finale against the New York Mets and he had just been told by general manager Matt Klentak that instead of heading west for the start of the Phillies’ road trip in Colorado, he would be heading up the Northeast Extension for a stint at triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Demotions sting. Failure stinks. But both things are an integral part of a baseball life. It is a game, by its very nature, that is filled with failure. The better you deal with it, the better chance you have at succeeding. If Pivetta was wise, he took a look around the room before he departed and made note of how many guys had already experienced what he is going through now.
Three of them, in fact, played a direct role in the Phillies’ 3-2 victory over the New York Mets on Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. Jake Arrieta was the star of the show. The veteran right-hander logged eight innings and allowed just two runs on six hits. He improved to 3-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.25 after his fourth straight quality start in as many outings.
Before doing his job on the mound, he had a conversation with Pivetta. Hopefully the 26-year-old Canadian listened.
“I talked with him, yeah,” Arrieta said. “The situation he’s in right now is one that I’m very familiar with. In 2012 and 2013, I went through very similar experiences.”
Arrieta, 33, was the same age then as Pivetta is now. Arrieta’s Lehigh Valley was Norfolk, the Baltimore Orioles’ triple-A affiliate. With Arrieta unable to find consistent success in the big leagues, the Orioles kept sending him to their top minor-league team before they finally traded him to the Chicago Cubs in July 2013. He knows the pain of being demoted. He also knows what it takes to make the most of a difficult situation.
“This is a moment for [Pivetta] to kind of get away, put his head down and get back to work,” Arrieta said. “I just tried to reiterate to him that the guy he was in spring training is the guy who he really is. He just needs to be a little bit more on the attack with the type of stuff that he has. You pick five to 10 guys with the best stuff in baseball and he’s in that group. He just needs to refine some things, make sure his head’s in a good space and get back to work because he’s going to be here.”
You want to see guys who did that? Two of them pitched in relief Wednesday. Adam Morgan and Hector Neris combined to get the final three outs. Rotator cuff surgery detoured Morgan’s career in 2014. Acute ineffectiveness forced Neris to spend six weeks in Lehigh Valley last season.
The pitcher who claimed Pivetta’s job Tuesday night by pitching four scoreless innings of relief has also traveled the circuitous route that is the road map for the majority of major-leaguers.
Jerad Eickhoff was the Phillies’ best starting pitcher three years ago. A couple of seasons later his career was being jeopardized by a mysterious nerve irritation in his right hand. It was a bum deal. He did not sulk. Carpal tunnel surgery in the offseason finally had Eickhoff pitching the way he did in 2016 again this year in spring training, but the Phillies wanted to see more at Lehigh Valley before bringing him to the big leagues.
“The first thing I thought when they sent me down was that I just have to control what I can control,” Eickhoff said. “That allowed me to hone in on some things and get ready to pitch. There’s a chance you may never come back to the big leagues and that’s a real thing. Just because you’re on the 40-man roster doesn’t mean you get to come back here. That, for me, made doing the work easy. I just honed in and tried to refine things that I already know how to do.”
Eickhoff said that even though there was no guarantee he would get back to the big leagues, he had to believe that if he did his job in the minors, the opportunity would eventually come. Only 25 guys open a season on the big-league roster, but a lot more than that are needed through the course of a 162-game season.
“I’m not sure everybody believes that all the time, but it’s real,” said Eickhoff, who will take Pivetta’s place in the rotation Sunday against the Rockies at Coors Field. “It takes the entire 40-man roster and sometimes more to get things done. If you can just focus on what you can control and trust what you’re doing, at some point the big-league club is going to need you. Everything will pan out if you feel that way.”
Manager Gabe Kapler added Victor Arano to the list of pitchers back in the big leagues after experiencing failure.
“He was slated to be on our opening-day roster,” Kapler said. “He was slated to take down meaningful innings in our bullpen and he just wasn’t quite there with his stuff in spring training. He had to spend a little time in Lehigh Valley. He got right and you saw what he did the other day in Miami with six straight punchouts. We feel like Nick has that kind of ceiling. We needed an opportunity to get him right.”