As he stood in front of a few reporters and a television camera Wednesday night and discussed yet another start for the Phillies, Nick Pivetta tried unsuccessfully to stifle his hiccups.
The symbolism was perfect.
Pivetta's breakthrough season has been interrupted by a four-start hiccup, the latest coming in a 7-2 pounding by the Colorado Rockies. Pitching without a feel for his signature breaking ball and falling behind in too many counts, he gave up six runs, five of which came in a fourth-inning burst that was too much for the Phillies' struggling offense to overcome.
"I need to lock back in here," said Pivetta, 0-4 with a 7.11 ERA in his last four starts after going 4-2 with a 3.23 ERA through his first 10. "It was a disappointing loss. I'll take that one. It's unacceptable to be giving up five runs in the fourth inning. You need to be able to win that inning as much as possible."
There isn't a common denominator for Pivetta's downturn, according to manager Gabe Kapler, just as neither Pivetta nor any of his fellow starting pitchers is primarily responsible for the Phillies' 5-11 record since their one-day occupation of first place in the National League East.
Go ahead and blame the offense for that. The Phillies have scored a grand total of 50 runs in the last 16 games. They've gotten more than 10 hits in a game once since May 17. On Wednesday night, they were muted by Rockies lefthander Tyler Anderson. Jesmuel Valentin, a rookie starting just his second game since getting called up in late April, accounted for most of the offense with two doubles and his first career home run.
It hasn't been easy to watch, not even for the Phillies' ever-optimistic manager.
"There's no disputing that our offense is not clicking," Kapler said. "It's very clear that we're not getting a lot of hits. It's very clear that we're not scoring a lot of runs. It's very clear that earlier in the season we were working deeper counts. We were just having better all-around at-bats. I don't know if me getting frustrated will be helpful for our hitters. I'm not going to display frustration to them."
Regardless, Pivetta was unable to keep the game close. The big fourth inning began with a leadoff walk to Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez's bunt single. From there, the Rockies teed off. Trevor Story doubled off the wall in right field. Gerardo Parra singled through the right side. By the time Ian Desmond hit a two-run homer into the right-field bleachers, the Rockies led 6-0.
Kapler chalked it up to Pivetta's not being able to command his curveball, an assessment with which Pivetta largely agreed.
"I think it's executing the pitches that is more important, getting ahead of guys, attacking the strike zone," Pivetta said. "I hung a couple of breaking balls tonight. They're a good hitting club, and that's just what happened. I'm just going to go back out there, work on what I need to work on in my bullpens, and then come back with a better mind-set."