There were times last year when opposing hitters found facing Phillies righthander Nick Pivetta to be a walk in the park.
Actually, lots of walks in lots of parks.
Pivetta walked 3.86 batters per nine innings last season, the fourth-highest ratio among National League pitchers who worked at least 120 innings. And by his own admission, innings tended to get out of control because he was unable to harness his control.
Of all the positive signs then, from Pivetta's latest start Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the most encouraging came in the fourth inning. Despite issuing his only two walks in 6 1/3 innings, including a free pass to leadoff man Sean Rodriguez, he pulled it together in time to escape without allowing a run.
"I just feel like I'm learning as I go along and having more consistent counts, getting ahead of guys and being able to put them away," Pivetta said after giving up two runs on five hits and taking a no-decision in an 11-inning, 3-2 victory that completed the Phillies' first four-game sweep of the Pirates since May 12-15, 1994. "It got away from me in that [fourth] inning there, but I was able to dial it back in the rest of the time. I felt good today."
It has been a season-long theme, too. Pivetta has walked only four batters in 28 innings, a drastic improvement that stands as the biggest reason for his 2.57 ERA in five starts. He has had command of three pitches and is beginning to incorporate more change-ups into the mix, too.
Pivetta attributes the improved control to the influence of veteran pitchers Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter, who have talked to him about the dangers in trying to be too precise. With a mid-90s heater and a good curveball, he has the stuff to get hitters out even if he's in the middle of the plate.
"I think we saw glimpses of it last year, with a little bit less consistency," catcher Andrew Knapp said. "Right now, he's really confident in what he's doing. It's kind of becoming an every-time-out kind of thing, where he's really pounding the strike zone. And he's got four pitches he can throw in any count."
Against the Pirates, Pivetta helped himself in other ways, too. He drove in a run with a fifth-inning double, his first career extra-base hit and the Phillies' first hit of the game, then, after moving to third on a wild pitch, hustled home to score on Cesar Hernandez's sacrifice fly.
"I was just trying to get back the two runs that I gave up and give the team a chance to win," Pivetta said. "Dusty [Wathan, the third base coach] gave me the go-ahead, and I ran as fast as I can and got there."
Asked whether he was expecting a close play at the plate, Pivetta smiled.
"I had no idea," he said. "I haven't been on the bases too much."
All the Phillies care about is that Pivetta continues to keep hitters off the bases.