Nick Pivetta has to be one of the more polarizing figures on the Red Sox pitching staff. If you’re Over the Monster’s own Avery Hamel, you’re his biggest fan. If you’re me, you find him to be a bit abrasive. Nobody has had more ups and downs than Pivetta, as he oscillates between batting practice pitcher and ace of the staff in about five-week periods. Last Monday, he was on the ace of the staff side, striking out thirteen in what can only be described as a Pedro-esque performance.
Monday, July 17. Bottom 4. Red Sox lead 2-0. Nick Pivetta returns to the mound for his second inning of work, facing the middle of the A’s lineup.
AB #1: Ryan Noda
First pitch curveball, not the best location, but Noda is taking all the way and Pivetta gets the “free real estate” strike.
Fastball up and in that gets fouled away for strike two. Again, not the best location, but in enough to where Noda can’t do a ton with it unless he’s really selling out for it. Now, Pivetta is ahead in the count and can throw pretty much whatever he wants outside of giving him a good pitch to hit.
He goes with the slider and misses down, but at 0-2, it’s no problem at all. I mentioned last week that often times when a hitter spits on a two-strike breaking ball, they’ll think they’ve “earned” a fastball. Pivetta couldn’t execute the slider, and he only throws it about 20% of the time. If you’re Noda, you’re probably expecting another high fastball.
Nope. Pivetta doubles up on the slider and throws a beauty as Noda comes out of his shoes and swings right over it.
I think this at-bat really shows how Pivetta can continue to be successful. Pivetta’s curveball has always been his secondary pitch despite pretty negative results against it. If he can consistently locate the pitch in the zone to steal called strikes early in at-bats, there’s a place for it in his arsenal. Use it early, and then put it on the shelf when he’s ahead in the count. The new, harder slider he’s throwing in 2023 has been getting a ton of swings and misses and can be that putaway pitch he desperately needs. Stuff+ really likes the pitch too, at 118.
AB #2: Brent Rooker
Back to the first pitch curveball. Absolutely spiked it. That’s why I said “consistently” above.
He goes to the fastball to try to get the strike but throws it a bit too high. I like the pitch call after a horrible curveball, he just needs to execute better. Now, down 2-0 to the dangerous Rooker, he has to be a bit more careful.
Again too high with the fastball, but this time Rooker almost bit. Even though it was a ball, there is some value in knowing that he might go for a high fastball.
Rooker takes all the way and sees strike one in the form of yet another fastball. A bit surprising that he didn’t have a green light. Either way, we’ll always take free strikes. At 3-1, Pivetta finds himself back in the at-bat but still needs to be careful with a good hitter at the plate.
Remember that high fastball that Rooker almost bit on? Here’s another, and this time he can’t hold up. Great pitch in a hitters’ count where it’s not the end of the world if you put him on first with an out and a terrible lineup behind him.
Now Pivetta is back in some control in the full count. He has an interesting dilemma though, because he hasn’t thrown anything but a fastball for a strike, while Rooker was looking to hit a fastball early in the at-bat. He could go back to the high fastball that Rooker is timed up to, or he could mix in the off-speed for the first time since his opening pitch.
Another fastball, this time on the outer part of the plate that Rooker fights away. This is a really cool pitch. Rather than going with the high fastball that Rooker has seen a few times, he goes down and away with it. If Rooker is looking for the fastball, he’s probably not looking for one down. He’s also late, meaning he’s expecting the breaking ball.
At this point, Rooker has seen five fastballs in a row and has a good sense of the timing. The only off-speed pitch he saw went about 58 feet. In the first full count, he appeared to be ready for a breaking ball but was still quick enough to foul away the fastball. It’s going to be difficult to punch Rooker out with a fastball given his previous swing, unless Pivetta can find some extra velocity on a high heater.
Devious. In the first full count, Rooker is thinking breaking ball. If he’s not throwing a slider in his first opportunity to throw one, he probably isn’t going to that pitch at all, right? Wrong. Slider down and away and Rooker whiffs by a mile. He’s clearly thinking fastball as Pivetta pulls the string and gets him to chase. Great job by Pivetta to get out of the 3-0 hole.
AB #3: Tyler Soderstrom
This at-bat is just straight-up funny. Tyler Soderstrom is a rookie with known plate discipline issues in his fourth career big-league game.
First pitch, Pivetta goes to the curveball that’s supposed to be a strike. It comes in a little below the zone but Soderstrom swings about 15 minutes too early and gives Pivetta the free strike. At this point, he was toast.
Another curveball, this time even further below the zone. He swung at the first one, so might as well go back to it.
Soderstrom, having flailed wildly at two curveballs is probably expecting a third curveball. In his fourth career game, he might not have very sophisticated thoughts about what pitch is coming next, but that’s my best assumption. A third curveball may have worked, although tripling up on a pitch can be tough, and he couldn’t get it much further from the zone than the second pitch. Instead, it’s 95 on the corner and Tyler Soderstrom is a pair of shoes. Shoutout Eck.
As I said in the intro, Pivetta has had a lot of ups and downs in his career. This could just be another classic Nick Pivetta hot streak before he fades back into mediocrity. Earlier this season, I wrote about how the Red Sox need to change the way they develop pitchers, with Pivetta being the driving force behind that article. While one outing isn’t a big enough sample to assert that something has materially changed, I really like this approach from Pivetta. Curveballs for called strikes, get ahead of hitters and use the slider to put them away.