LAKELAND, Fla. - Nick Pivetta says it doesn't matter what role he pitches in this season, that he just wants to have fun playing baseball - that's something that was missing last season - and help the Phillies win games.
But deep down inside, Pivetta desires another chance to pitch in the starting rotation. That's why he spent his off-season working on his changeup.
"Every day," he said.
"I need a fourth pitch to make this starting rotation," he added. "For me to take my next step, that's the pitch I'm going to have to have."
Pivetta made his spring debut in the Phillies' exhibition opener Saturday against the Detroit Tigers. In two innings of work, he threw 35 pitches. Seven of them were changeups. He will continue to work on the pitch all spring as he competes for the fifth starter's job against Vince Velasquez and dark horse candidate Ranger Suarez.
Pivetta is 18-28 with a 5.42 ERA in 71 starts for the Phillies over the last three seasons. The clock is ticking on the 27-year-old right-hander. It's time for him to turn some of his huge potential into consistent performance. The Phillies thought they were going to get that from Pivetta last year. They awarded him with the second start of the season, but he was sent to the minors just a few weeks later. He eventually made it back to the majors and bounced between the rotation and the bullpen. Along the way, he butted heads with manager Gabe Kapler and struggled to adapt to some of the philosophies of pitching coach Chris Young. Baseball wasn't much fun. It never is when you have a 5.38 ERA.
It's a clean slate for Pivetta now. Joe Girardi is in as manager. Bryan Price is in as pitching coach. Pivetta is upbeat.
"I just want to have fun playing baseball," he said after his outing Saturday. The Phillies and Tigers played to an 8-8 tie on a chilly Florida day.
Using a more compact delivery and shorter arm action - he said he's simply trying to be "more efficient" - Pivetta enjoyed a 1-2-3 first inning with his fastball reaching 96 mph. He allowed two doubles, two singles and two runs in the second inning. Two of the hits were soft.
Girardi has said the competition for the fifth job won't begin in earnest until the pitchers have made a couple of starts and broken in their spikes. But Girardi liked what he saw of Pivetta his first time out.
"His velocity was good," Girardi said. "He used his fastball down in the zone and up in the zone well. I thought his curveball had bite to it. His slider was pretty consistent. He threw some changeups. I thought his tempo was great. To me, you can really build off that. I don't necessarily look at the early numbers, right? He didn't walk people. He was ahead in the count. You start doing that and your location gets better as you get more innings under your belt and you've got something."
Girardi had watched a lot of video of Pivetta. He liked the more compact delivery.
"I think his fastball is going to get on people, especially as he starts to use his off-speed more," Girardi said.
Girardi also liked what he saw of Pivetta's spring project, the changeup.
"I think it's a weapon for him that he needs to learn how to use to right-handers and left-handers," the manager said. "I think he'll continue to develop it. We've got time to develop it down here and we'll see how it goes."
Pivetta lost confidence in his changeup last season and threw it just 1.2 percent of the time. When he landed in the bullpen, he threw mostly just fastballs and curveballs.
So far in camp, pitchers have raved about their dealings with Price, whose style is to have pitchers work to their strengths.
Pivetta recalled his first conversation with Price this winter. The two spoke about the importance of improving the pitcher's changeup.
"With Price, when I first talked to him on the phone, something that really clicked with me was just making sure the pitch is down in the zone," Pivetta said. "Just make sure it's down. Let the pitch do its work.
"Bryan is really, really good. I've really enjoyed Bryan. He has a lot of really good knowledge. I look forward to continuing to get to know him more on a personal level and really dive into the knowledge he has. He has such a vast and long history in major league baseball."
The Phils host Pittsburgh in Clearwater on Sunday. Aaron Nola will start. Velasquez will get the ball Monday against Baltimore.
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Will more changeups equal more fun for Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta in 2020? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia