Nick Pivetta grew up idolizing Roy Halladay, so he knows the story of the legendary ace getting sent down to the minors early in his Hall of Fame career.
But that didn’t make what happened Wednesday any easier for Pivetta.
In a surprising move but one that reinforced how much the Phillies are all-in on winning the National League East, they optioned Pivetta to triple-A Lehigh Valley. After only four starts, he will be replaced in the rotation by right-hander Jerad Eickhoff, who will start Sunday in Colorado.
“Nick has all the ingredients to be a top-of-the-line major league starter, and everyone in this organization believes he’s going to do it,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “But right now, after four tough starts, we need to get him into an environment where he can get his confidence back.”
Pivetta allowed three runs on seven hits and three walks in five innings of Tuesday night’s 14-3 victory over the Mets. Overall, he has given up 31 hits in 18-1/3 innings and posted an 8.35 ERA. He has not pitched beyond the fifth inning.
After packing his locker Wednesday, Pivetta declined comment, issuing a polite “no thank you” on his way out of the clubhouse.
Eickhoff tossed four scoreless innings in relief of Pivetta after being recalled on Tuesday. He missed almost all of last season with carpal tunnel syndrome, among other injuries, but pitched well in spring training. The Phillies routinely praise his work ethic and perseverance.
Entering Wednesday’s matinee series finale against the Mets, the Phillies had gotten only 84-2/3 innings from their starters, fifth-fewest in the NL. Eickhoff could help with that. He logged 197-1/3 innings over 33 starts in 2016 and 128 innings over 24 starts in 2017.
Pivetta was a popular choice to have a breakout season because of his talent. The Phillies believe his struggles are related to confidence. Manager Gabe Kapler has talked about the need for Pivetta to trust his stuff, specifically his curveball, a sentiment recently echoed by pitching coach Chris Young.
“I think the stuff’s always been there,” Young said. “I think what you’ve seen with Nick is you’ve seen a guy get to the big leagues and be like a league-average starter with stuff. I think now Nick’s at that point in time where we can translate that stuff into a mature major-league pitcher. I think that’s when we’re going to see that big uptick that everyone knows is coming.”
In addition to Halladay, Klentak brought up more recent examples in which the Phillies sent relievers Adam Morgan, Hector Neris, and Victor Arano to triple A and saw positive results when they returned.
Regardless, Klentak said the Phillies’ return to contention requires that they have a shorter leash with players who are underperforming.
“The whole division is going to be a dogfight the whole year for us, and performance matters,” Klentak said. “In Nick’s case, I believe his fastball, the depth on his breaking ball, what he can do on the mound gives him a chance to be a front-of-the-rotation starter. But he needs to get them out, too. And I think he will.”
Center fielder Odubel Herrera left Wednesday’s game in the fifth inning after reporting a cramp in his right hamstring. Kapler called the move a “precaution.”
If Herrera’s injury is more serious, outfielder Roman Quinn is healthy and ready to be recalled from his injury-rehab assignment, which can run through April 23.
Jean Segura didn’t play after straining his left hamstring on Tuesday night. Although the Phillies don’t anticipate needing to place Segura on the injured list, they added depth by calling up triple-A infielder Phil Gosselin, a Malvern Prep product.
“I think it probably exceeded the first call-up that I got [with the Braves in 2013],” said Gosselin, who has played 236 games in the majors. “Growing up coming to games here, I probably got more emotional with this. I’m not a very emotional guy, but this one more so than even that first one.”
Gosselin said his father and brother were at the game.
Reliever Tommy Hunter (strained flexor tendon) was transferred to the 60-day injured list to open a 40-man roster spot for Gosselin.