It has been one strange ride for Nick Pivetta, not even for his whole career (though that is also true) but even just looking at his time with the Red Sox. He was acquired in a deadline deal by a selling team in a trade that looked good for Boston at the time, more because of Connor Seabold than Pivetta though, and has only gotten better as time has passed. Upon being acquired, Pivetta was kept at the Alternate Site— I’ve seen some attribute this to service time manipulation, but while I don’t tend to give teams the benefit of the doubt with this sort of thing I think it was because he was just straight-up bad for the previous couple years — until getting a couple of starts to close the year. He was great in those opportunities, and impressed enough at spring training to stick in the rotation.
This season has been a similarly wild ride. I will admit I was not at all confident in the righty keeping that rotation spot all year. I believe my official prediction was that he’d be in the bullpen by Memorial Day. Instead, he was mostly awesome in the first half, and then became a one-man rollercoaster in the second half. His overall numbers look bad, but it really was a case of not knowing what you were going to get heading into each start.
And now we’ve gotten to the postseason and he’s playing what sneaky might be the most important role of an Alex Cora baseball team, which is the fourth starter, or more generally non-aces. We’ve now seen it in two playoff runs where he is going to lean on that fourth starter for relief duty if and when it comes up, as we’ve seen twice with Pivetta already this postseason. In fact, I think that was part of the decision to start Eduardo Rodriguez in Game One was to ensure Pivetta could be available when needed out of the bullpen. (Not to get too carried away, though, because I think more of it was just confidence in Rodriguez that didn’t work out.)
But whether it was calculated or a happy accident is less important at this point, because the only fact that matters is that he has gotten the job done and, despite pitching the most innings in the lone loss of this series so far, he’s been the most important reason why the Red Sox are leading 2-1 and have a chance to punch their ALCS ticket on Monday. They don’t give out MVPs after the ALDS, but if they did he’d be at the top of my ticket. Pitching out of relief in both Game One and Game Three, Pivetta has allowed three runs over 8 2⁄3 innings of work, striking out 11 and walking three. The numbers look more good than great, but it’s the overall impact of those innings that put his fake MVP case over the edge.
Boston lost the series opener after Rodriguez struggled and had to be taken out in the second inning. Pivetta got the ball to start the third, and the Red Sox really just needed innings from him. He did allow three runs, but two were on solo homers. If you’re going to allow runs, that’s how you want to do it because it only takes one pitch. He was able to get this team into the seventh inning and was relieved with two outs in the inning. This was a huge turn of events, because after such a short start it was not hard to see the bullpen being burned and specifically Tanner Houck being burned. That didn’t happen, and Houck went on to pitch huge innings in Game Two after Chris Sale had a similarly short start.
And then Sunday’s performance almost seems self-explanatory. The Red Sox offense looked very good early in the game, but started to stall out over the second inning and into extras. They needed someone who was going to come in and get the job done to keep the score tied and give the offense more chances to win it. Pivetta did just that with a brilliant performance. The pitching line itself does enough to describe his role, but I’d also point to his emotional outbursts after every third out, which served to pump up both the team and the crowd.
And more tangibly, he again saved some bullets in the bullpen. Rodriguez is expected to start again on Monday, but I am certainly not expecting a long outing if for no other reason than him being on short rest. Bullpen arms will be needed, and Pivetta did a hell of a job making sure he’d be the only one unavailable for this game. No one else should even be limited in their role as compared to what it would normally be.
I’m still going to be at least a little nervous whenever Pivetta gets the ball because we’ve seen his Jekyll and Hyde act all season. But things do seem different in this role, and he does seem to be channeling the postseason adrenaline in extremely productive ways. If this series does go five, there’s a good chance he’ll be needed again, which will just give him another chance to solidify himself as the most important player on the Red Sox for this series.