Tag Archives: Ben Lively

Nick Pivetta continues to struggle at back of Phillies rotation

Nick Pivetta’s struggles continued on Friday night
The Phillies crushed the host Pirates by a 17-5 score on Friday night at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. The win moved the team into first place by percentage points in the National League East Division standings.
It also marked the 15th victory over the club’s last 22 games. Even more recently, the Phils have taken five in a row and seven of their last eight.
There was plenty of good news to go around from an offensive attack that has struggled mightily during most of that winning stretch. For the most part it has been strong pitching, particularly from the starting rotation, that has pushed the Phillies back to contending status.
The news was not all good last night. Starting pitcher Nick Pivetta lasted just 2.2 innings, struggling through 74 pitches in the short outing. He surrendered three runs on five hits while walking two batters. Further, the poor outing directly led to manager Gabe Kapler needing to use six relief pitchers in the opening game of a long road trip.
This was not a one-time aberration performance from Pivetta. The 25-year old right-hander has been struggling mightily for a month and a half now. In fact, only five of his 17 starts all season have resulted in a Quality Start effort: at least six innings pitched, no more than three earned runs allowed.
Pivetta is 0-5 over his last eight starts, and hasn’t won as a starting pitcher since May 21. He has allowed 47 hits, including 13 home runs, and walked 16 opposing batters over 35.2 innings in that span. The Phillies problems at the back of their rotation are not limited to Pivetta.
Vince Velasquez remains on the Disabled List after being drilled on the right arm by a nasty comebacker nearly two weeks ago. No official timetable for his return has been made public.
On Friday, Jim Salisbury with NBC Sports Philadelphia noted that Velasquez “is feeling good and will throw a bullpen session Saturday. If all goes well, he could pitch Wednesday in New York.
In that same piece, Salisbury also reported an update on Jerad Eickhoff, who has been out all season to this point:

“Eickhoff has experienced on-again, off-again tingling in the fingers on his right hand when he throws. He experienced the sensation again while throwing to hitters in Clearwater and will return to Philadelphia to be checked by doctors…The tingling, which first presented itself late last season, has been limited to two fingers. The difference now is Eickhoff felt it while throwing his fastball. He had previously felt it throwing his curveball only.”


Ben Lively received five April starts, but was largely ineffective. He went 0-2 with a 6.85 ERA, allowing 34 hits over 23.2 innings pitched.
Fortunately for the Phillies, they have three reliable starting pitchers at the front of their rotation. Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin have been outstanding. Jake Arrieta has been up and down, but is a proven veteran with a Cy Young Award on his resume.
A look across the current 40-man roster does not reveal many attractive options should the club wish to make a change at the back of the rotation.
There are a couple of potentially attractive options with the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs, should the Phillies choose to go that route. Both 24-year old lefty Cole Irvin and 22-year old righty Enyel De Los Santos are having strong seasons. De Los Santos was just named to the World Team for the upcoming MLB Futures Game showcase event.
Just yesterday, Tom Housenick at The Morning Call speculated that IronPigs starter Drew Anderson could enter the mix: “the lone IronPigs starting pitcher on the Phillies’ 40-man roster, is slated to start tonight against Syracuse. He could fill the void left by injured Vince Velasquez on Sunday or beyond.
To add either Irvin or De Los Santos, the Phillies would need to open a spot on that 40-man roster. This would mean releasing someone, and the ball club might not be at the point just yet where it is willing to make such a move.
Push is going to come to shove sooner rather than later. The Phillies have no off-days in the schedule between now and the MLB All-Star Game break, which begins after next weekend. Built into that stretch is a true doubleheader on Monday in New York.
The full rotation has not yet been released. Arrieta goes on Saturday afternoon, and while the old ‘TBA’ (to be determined) is currently listed for Sunday, that turn should probably to go to Eflin on his normal rest.
Nola will get one of the starts in Monday’s doubleheader. It will be the other Monday start as well as Tuesday’s that will be decision time for the Phillies skipper. If the club decides to go with Nola and Eflin on Monday, the decision comes earlier, with the Sunday start.
The hope right now is that Velasquez will be ready to return next Wednesday for the Mets finale. The club could then give Pivetta another shot against the weak Orioles in Baltimore on Thursday. This would allow the Phillies to end the road trip and roll into the break with Eflin, Nola, and Arrieta next weekend in Miami.
But again, there are starts to be had on either Sunday or Monday, and then definitely on Tuesday. Already with the rotation showing some fraying on the back end, getting through those two games could be a challenge. Keeping the bullpen fresh the rest of this weekend will be especially important.
Could GM Matt Klentak swing a trade as soon as this weekend to bring in an arm such as Cole HamelsJ.A. Happ, or Chris Archer? With both Hamels and Happ scheduled to make starts later today, neither would help alleviate the short-term need. Archer is due to start on Monday, however.
Earlier this week, Salisbury quoted Klentak on the Phillies plans as the club finds itself in genuine contending status with the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline drawing closer:

“We’re going to pursue a lot of different avenues, maybe offensively and maybe on the pitching side, and balance that against what our current group of players brings and make the appropriate decisions.”


It will be very interesting to see which decisions the club makes for the two upcoming starts. This may prove to be an opportunity for someone to demonstrate that they deserve a full shot, should Pivetta continue to struggle and/or Velasquez need more recovery time.

What do the Phillies have at the back of the rotation?

Zach Eflin hopes to be long term member of Phils rotation

The Philadelphia Phillies have been experiencing a number of problems over the past two months. Since April 25, the team has struggled along with a 20-24 record.

Fingers have mostly been pointed at an offense that is now 12th of the 15 National League clubs in both OPS and Runs scored.

There have also been numerous critics of the constant lineup and positional juggling by rookie manager Gabe Kapler, including from yours truly.

One area where the Phillies have generally received solid performances on a consistent basis has been the front of their starting pitching rotation.

Aaron Nola has broken out to legitimate ace status. He is currently 8-2 with a 2.27 ERA, a minuscule 0.934 WHIP, and a fantastic 90/22 K:BB ratio. He has yielded just 63 hits over 91 innings across 14 starts.

Having turned just 25 years old earlier this month and not eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, Nola should be counted on as a key cog moving forward.

Veteran free agent signee Jake Arrieta has been less consistent than Nola, but has still been generally effective. Even after a poor outing last night, the 32-year old is 5-5 with a 3.33 ERA, and has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched. He’ll be fine.

It is the back end of that Phillies starting rotation the brings the most open questions. Is Vince Velasquez actually a starting pitcher long term, and not better utilized out of the bullpen?

Are either or both of Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin starting pitchers who can be counted on for the long term as the Phillies build toward true contention?

Velasquez, who came to the Phillies as part of the Ken Giles trade with Houston, is the most interesting. He clearly has dominating stuff at times, as he demonstrated in his most recent outing on Thursday afternoon when he surrendered just one hit to the Colorado Rockies over 6.2 innings.

But the problem with Velasquez, who turned 26 years of age earlier this month, has never been pure stuff. He has shown that kind of dominance before.

The problem is that the talented right-hander never carries it forward with any consistency, usually following up a great game or two with another three or four less-than-satisfactory efforts.

Pivetta, who arrived from Washington in a trade for Jonathan Papelbon, is a 25-year old right-hander. He is just 4-6 this season with a slightly elevated 4.25 ERA.

However, Pivetta also has a strong 81/21 K:BB mark, and has surrendered just 68 hits over 72 innings across 14 starts.

Pivetta cannot be a free agent until after the 2021 season, so the Phillies theoretically have a long time to measure his results and his future role.

At 24 years of age, Eflin is the youngest of this mostly young group. He came to the Phillies as part of the Jimmy Rollins deal a few years back.

This season, Eflin is 3-2 with a 3.63 ERA and a 1.185 WHIP, both solid marks. He has a 40/10 K:BB ratio, and has allowed 37 hits over 39.2 innings pitched.

Eflin had a horrendous three-start stretch from mid-late May. Across those starts he was ripped for a dozen earned runs and 19 hits in 13.1 innings, losing two of the three. But aside from that he has performed well.

The only other pitcher to make a start for the 2018 Phillies was Ben Lively. The right-hander is currently battling back from an injury. While Lively is a nice pitcher who competes well many nights, I believe that he is a depth starter best suited to AAA and emergency fill-in status on a contender.

In examining the Phillies youthful rotation, it is clear that they have one answer: Nola. The other three young arms in Velasquez, Pivetta, and Eflin remain question marks.

The Phillies clearly need the veteran presence of Arrieta near the front of their rotation going forward. His contract is guaranteed through next season, after which he can opt out of a $20 million deal for the 2020 season.

However, the Phillies can void that opt-out by exercising $20 million team options for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, when Arrieta would be 35 and 36 years of age.

My thinking, which I expressed recently as part of a piece on what I believe to be the misuse of young reliever Seranthony Dominguez, is that Velasquez should be moved to the bullpen. I feel that he could be a strong setup man, with Dominguez as the Closer.

I also feel that the Phillies need to go out and get another proven, veteran starting pitcher to slot into the #3 role in their rotation behind Nola and Arrieta.

There are a number of starting pitchers who fit the bill, and who could become available over the next month and a half leading up to the MLB non-waiver trade deadline

Frequently mentioned names include Chris Archer of Tampa Bay, Michael Fulmer of Detroit, Patrick Corbin of Arizona, and even our old friend Cole Hamels, still with the Texas Rangers. Even someone like Madison Bumgarner could become available if the San Francisco Giants should fade.

The Phillies are also one of the teams frequently mentioned as being suitors for one or the other (or both) of the biggest upcoming free agent bats. Manny Machado of Baltimore and Bryce Harper of Washington lead what will be robust free agent class in the coming off-season, and the Phillies are flush with cash.

Would the Phils pull the trigger to obtain Machado this summer? If so, what kind of prospect package would it take to land the Orioles shortstop, and how would paying that price affect their ability to go after a starting pitcher?

Signing a proven veteran and shifting Velasquez to the pen would allow Pivetta and Eflin to slide back to the 4-5 slots in the Phillies rotation.

The Phillies do have other pitchers in their system who could still emerge as long term starting pitching options. Jake Thompson is still just 24 years of age. It’s possible that the righty obtained as part of the Hamels deal with Texas could still put it together at some point.

In the minor leagues, the Phillies are flush with pitching talent. Righties Sixto Sanchez (19) and Adonis Medina (21) are their top prospects, but are each likely a couple years away.

22-year old righty Enyel De Los Santos has been lighting it up with the AAA Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. If the club isn’t able to make any moves for a veteran, and there are injuries to the big league rotation at some point, he could find himself up with the Phillies this year.

Bringing in another veteran arm strengthens the Phillies rotation, both at the front and all the way though. Moving Velasquez to the pen strengthens the Phillies bullpen. That would be my plan if I were a member of the Phillies management team.

Hoping to remain in contention for now while planning to contend into the future, I expect that management team to be busy in the coming weeks. Their decisions regarding the pitchers mentioned here will have direct impact on the team’s short and long term success.

Phillies will need another starting pitcher if they want to make playoffs

Aaron Nola has been a Phillies rotation bright spot in 2018

Last Friday night, the Phillies opened a weekend series with the visiting Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park with a 7-3 victory.

That win, behind the pitching of Aaron Nola, lifted the Fightin’ Phils record to 17-9 in the early going of the 2018 MLB regular season. It also moved them within a half-game of first place.

As has happened in a couple of recent seasons when the Phillies got off to a hot start, there was talk among some in the fan base of possible Wildcard playoff contention.

Maybe you were one of them last season, when a six-game winning streak lifted them to an 11-9 start in the early going. Or perhaps it was just two years ago, when the club sat at 24-17 and just that same half-game out of first place on May 19, 2016.

Alas, it was not to be for either of those Phillies teams. The 2016 club would win 71 games and finish in fourth place. Last year’s bunch sank to 66 wins and a fifth place finish.

This time it seemed to be different. The Phils had opened up their wallets and signed a true Cy Young-winning ace in Jake Arrieta. They had brought in a proven veteran on-base machine in Carlos Santana to tutor and provide an example for the gaggle of talented young hitters who peppered their lineup.

Surely this year, there would be no similar collapse to the last two seasons. Surely this time around, the ball club would fight to contention all through the summer for new skipper Gabe Kapler.

But now after a week in which the Phillies dropped five of six games against division rivals Atlanta, Miami, and Washington, the club has dropped to just three games over the .500 mark. In three of those losses the starting pitchers, Vince Velasquez, Arrieta, and Nick Pivetta were each bombed by the opposition.

After nearly six weeks of the season, the starting pitching has to be a genuine concern. That is especially so if club management actually believes that they can contend for at least a Wildcard berth over the course of the coming summer.

Nola and Arrieta are generally providing the Phillies with good work. Arrieta has allowed 23 hits over 28.1 innings with a 20/10 K:BB ratio. He has solid 3.49 ERA and 1.16 WHIP marks, with slightly better ERA+ and FIP marks.

Nola appears to be elevating himself to true ‘Ace’ level this season. He is 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA and 0.920 WHIP, surrendering 31 hits over a staff-high 45.2 innings with a 35/11 K:BB ratio. His last four outings have each resulted in a Quality Start effort.

But behind those two, the starting pitching is becoming a true mess.

Velasquez continues to be an enigma, with fantastic stuff and unimpressive results, including a 5.70 ERA and WHIP of 1.467 to this point. While he has a strong 34/9 K:BB ratio over 30 innings pitched, the righty has also allowed 35 hits, including a staff-high five home runs.

After getting blown up by the Braves in his last start, he had this to say per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki:

“You’re going to have one of these days and you shouldn’t beat yourself up because it’s just going to add up. I’ll look back at some film and reflect back and go back to the actual first outings and maybe even reflect back to a couple years ago and how I was successful in a couple of games. This is the process of getting better and you utilize stuff like this to better you.”

Problem is that his “one of these days” has become a regular occurrence. Just 16 of Velasquez’ 45 starts with the Phillies over the last three seasons have been of the Quality Start variety. The argument that he would be more suited to a bullpen role is going to grow louder and louder if something major doesn’t change quickly.


Ben Lively was given five starts before landing on the DL this week. He has a 22/10 K:BB mark over 23.2 innings. That’s not bad, considering that he is not a classic strikeout artist. But he has been far too hittable, allowing 34 hits and four homers. These have resulted in an ugly 6.85 ERA and 1.859 WHIP.

Pivetta was the latest to get rocked. He lasted just one inning last night, with the Nationals ripping him for five hits and six earned runs, including a pair of Bryce Harper home runs.

“There were some pitches that could have gone my way, but they didn’t,” Pivetta said per Philly.com’s Scott Lauber. “It kind of got out of hand a little bit. I need to be able to bear down there and pitch a little better. But they got me tonight. It’s one of those games.

While Pivetta still flaunts a fabulous 35/10 K:BB mark over 34 innings, his ERA ballooned to the 4.76 mark. It was his second straight poor outing, after he surrendered four earned runs over five innings to Atlanta last week.

Zach Eflin was called up from AAA Lehigh Valley this past week, providing a nice outing against the last place Miami Marlins. But while that effort was promising, Eflin’s stuff and big league track record are not.

If the Phillies are going to actually contend for a playoff spot this season, or even remain relevant in the race through much of the summer, they are going to need better starting pitching performances.

Velasquez has proven that he cannot be relied on to provide those performances. Eflin and Lively are decent emergency options, but not truly the types of starting pitchers that a postseason contender wants to be running out on a regular basis. Pivetta remains largely unproven over the long haul.

Some are looking forward to the return from injury of Jerad Eickhoff. The right-hander who will turn 27 years old in early July is recovering from a lat strain suffered during spring training. It is hoped that he will be back by the end of May.

However, Eickhoff is no rotation savior. Last season he went 4-8 with a 4.71 ERA and 1.523 WHIP over 24 starts. On a contending team, he is a back-end option at best.

What the Phillies truly need if they are going to remain above the .500 mark and stay in contention over the course of the summer is another strong starting pitcher. That could possibly come from one of the current arms catching fire.

However, my bet is that the five or six organizational arms behind Arrieta and Nola will not be enough. Maybe one or two can pitch well enough to keep the club in most of their outings, providing a decent back-end for now.

But to contend, the Phillies management is going to have to find a deal for a more proven starting pitcher with a strong career resume. Another arm along the lines of Arrieta, signed so surprisingly this spring.

KC lefty Danny Duffy could be fit for Phillies

The offense is beginning to emerge from an early season funk. The Phillies are fifth in the National League in Runs scored. The club is sixth in both Doubles and Steals, and second in Walks. They could still use a more genuine, consistent power threat to join Rhys Hoskins in the middle of the batting order in order to elevate their everyday lineup.

Some of the possible arms who could become available this summer include Chris Archer, Garrett Richards, Danny Duffy, Marcus Stroman, Julio Teheran, and old friend Cole Hamels.

While each has had his own problems in recent years with either injuries or inconsistency, each is also clearly more talented than what is already in-house with the current Phillies. Either Duffy or Hamels would add a left-hander, something currently missing from the Phils mix.

Maybe the Phillies don’t believe they can be a playoff team this season. Maybe management is looking more towards next year. The youngsters get another shot. The club makes a big push in free agency. They look to contend in 2019 instead.

But if they are indeed hoping to contend this year, they need to do something about the starting pitching, and soon. If they don’t, they run the risk of the current skid becoming yet another slide to NL East standings oblivion.

Phillies may need to step back with Vince Velasquez

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Vince Velasquez described himself as “clueless” following yet another disappointing outing. 
The young righty took the loss as the Phils dropped a 6-3 decision to the cross-state rival Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday afternoon.
Velasquez allowed five earned runs on seven hits over 5.1 innings against the Bucs. As is frequently the case, he started out fast, retiring eight of the first nine Pittsburgh batters that he faced.
With the Phillies leading 1-0, the Pirates finally got to Velasquez with two outs in the bottom of the third inning. A single and a walk put two men on, and then Andrew McCutchen delivered an RBI single to tie things up.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Pirates took the lead thanks to a leadoff home run off the bat of David Freese. That was still the score entering the bottom of the sixth inning, when Velasquez atypically unraveled.
With one out, a walk, a single, and a throwing error on catcher Cameron Rupp on a pick-off play left Pittsburgh runners at second and third. Francisco Cervelli then delivered a two-run single to push the Pirates lead out to a 4-1 margin.
That was the end of the Velasquez’ day, as he was relieved by Mark Leiter Jr, who didn’t help matters any. Leiter walked the first batter he faced, and then surrendered a two-out, two-run single to Adam Frazier to give the Pirates a 6-1 lead.

CONTINUING COMMAND ISSUES

After the game, Velasquez was quoted by Matt Gelb of Philly.com:
“I’m just clueless right now. I’m just running around like a chicken without a head. I don’t know what I’ve got to do, but I just know there’s something. . . . I have to break it down little by little. Literally, if I have to start over or whatever the situation might be. I need to break it down and not put so much pressure on myself.”
His failure to get through the sixth inning is not unusual. Velasquez pitched into the seventh just three times last season in his 24 starts. This year, he has reached the seventh just once over his first eight trips to the mound.
Velasquez still overpowers hitters. He has now recorded 197 strikeouts over 173.2 innings with the Phillies. But pitch counts remain an issue. He is frequently over the 90-pitch mark by the fifth or sixth inning due to command and control issues.
There has been talk that perhaps Velasquez ultimate best role would be in the bullpen. Perhaps he could develop into a lights-out closer. That may, in fact, be his ultimate fate. That wouldn’t be so bad either.

A STEP BACK MAY BE IN ORDER

However, the time to try Velasquez out in the bullpen is not now. He turns 25 years old in a couple of weeks. He has proven durable to this point in his career. There is still realistic hope that he can figure it out, and become not only dominating in spurts, but more reliable and consistent.
Frankly, what it may take is a trip up the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Let Velasquez go to AAA Lehigh Valley, where the IronPigs have one of the best teams in the minor leagues. There Velasquez can work on his confidence in a less pressurized environment where the ball club is winning.
The Phillies have a pair of pitching prospects with Lehigh Valley who deserve and appear ready for a shot in the big leagues. Those would be right-handers Jake Thompson and Ben Lively.
Let Velasquez go to Lehigh Valley for a few weeks. Tell him this isn’t a rush job. Give him a plan, say, after the MLB All-Star break. That would be a good seven weeks and about 10 starting assignments.
Many pitchers have needed to take a step back in order to move forward in their development. It would certainly not be a blow to Velasquez’ confidence, which already appears on the brink of being shattered.

Two prospects who could improve the Phillies right now

Now almost seven weeks into the 2017 regular season, the Philadelphia Phillies are once again near the bottom of the NL East Division standings.
As the club looks to improve upon their position, there are varying opinions as to the readiness of the top minor league prospects.
I believe that two prospects now helping the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs succeed can help the big league Phillies improve right now.
Outfielder Roman Quinn just turned 24 years of age this past weekend. He was the Phillies second round selection in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft out of Port St. Joe High School in Florida.
Quinn is a speed demon who projects as a prototypical leadoff man of the dynamic variety. Now in his sixth minor league season, Quinn has stolen 167 bases and scored 267 runs over 390 games played.
No one, and that includes both Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera, the current Phillies top two baserunning threats, has the kind of game-changing speed that Quinn would bring to the lineup.

PITCHER JUST KEEPS ON WINNING

On the mound, Ben Lively never pops up on the Phillies Top 10 Prospects rankings – except on mine. Lively never seems to excite prospect evaluators. But he does do two things extremely well that I find vitally important – pitch innings, and win.
Lively turned 25 years old near the start of spring training. The right-hander was the fourth round choice of the Cincinnati Reds in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Central Florida.
Following the 2014 season, Lively won the Chief Bender Award as the Reds minor league player of the year.  He was traded to the Phillies on New Years Eve of 2015 for veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd.
When last season ended, Lively was named the winner of the Paul Owens Award as the Phillies organization’s top minor league pitcher.
Lively is now 43-24 over parts of five minor league seasons, with a 3.28 ERA and 1.115 WHIP mark. He has allowed 448 hits in 542.2 innings, with a 501/157 K:BB ratio.
This is a guy who has done everything asked of him developmentally. And still he waits for his first real chance in the big leagues as other pitchers continue to struggle in Philadelphia.

HELP IS AVAILABLE UP THE TURNPIKE

I saw it written today that there isn’t anyone coming who could help improve the current state of the Philadelphia Phillies. I vehemently disagree. These two players could step right into the lineup and rotation today and incrementally improve the ball club.
In the coming months, I anticipate that more changes will be coming. More of the prospects will emerge, more of the current big leaguers will reveal themselves as suspect. The winds of change will blow talent from the Lehigh Valley down to the Delaware Valley.
But for now, promote Quinn and Lively and keep them up. Give them the shots that lesser players have been given. The chance to battle through the ups and downs that come with the big league learning curve. It’s better than some of what is here now, that’s for sure.