By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
READING, Penn. – It took two days.
Just 48 hours for Nick Pivetta to realize that the team that had drafted him, the squad he thought he would make it to the big leagues with, the only professional baseball home he had ever known, the Washington Nationals, were his team no longer.
As Major League Baseball’s trade deadline approached, Pivetta really thought nothing of it. It was something that had never been on his radar before he saw his name start to float around on Twitter. Even then, it was still just a rumour.
Until his phone rang three days before the deadline and things began to snowball.
The first call the 22-year-old right-hander received was from the Nationals, letting him know he had been traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. And with that, his relationship with the organization that had drafted him in the fourth round out of New Mexico Junior College just over two years ago was done. The idea took some digestion, but logistically Pivetta didn’t have to do anything but wait.
When Ruben Amaro Jr., Philadelphia’s general manager, and another member of the Phillies front office called him, they let the native of Victoria, BC know that he would be staying put for a few days. Already in New Hampshire facing the Fisher Cats with the Harrisburg Senators – Washington’s Double-A affiliate – Pivetta sat tight for a day in the Country Inn and Suites Manchester until the Reading Fightin’ Phils came to town.
“It just so happened that Reading was coming in right after we left – we being the Nationals – so I stayed in the hotel for the day, relaxed, and then I met my new teammates the next day,” he said. “I threw a bullpen that day and then I started two days later …
“I was actually scheduled to pitch the day after I got traded. So Reading had just finished their game [in Erie] and they were coming in that night, so I wasn’t going to pitch that day for them. Two days later I pitched against New Hampshire in a new uniform.”
Amaro who was in attendance for Pivetta’s first home start at First Energy Field on Friday, noted that the Phillies had been watching the young hurler over the last two seasons. Because of team president Pat Gillick’s ties to the Canadian baseball community, they were able to get the added insight they needed to be confident that Pivetta was the man they wanted to trade for Jonathan Papelbon.
With Pivetta, the Phillies have eight Canadians in the organization. He joins lefty Adam Loewen (Surrey, BC), currently on the major league roster, right-hander Chris Leroux (Mississauga, Ont.) at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, southpaw Ethan Stewart (Campbell River, BC) and right-handed pitcher Jesen Dygestile-Therrien (Montreal, Que.) in Clearwater, rehabbing righties Colin Kleven (Kamloops, BC) and Steven Inch (Edmonton, Alta.), and Ben Pelletier (Laval, Que.), signed after this year’s draft.
“It’s a great honour to be traded for a six-time All Star like him, and an All Star this year,” Pivetta said. “I grew up watching him when he played for Boston, and even when he played for the Phillies. He’s an amazing player and to be in the same trade and the same category for a guy like that is a good boost, and it kind of shows that you’ve been doing well.”
Though for a brief period the trade was a tough notion for Pivetta, the excitement he felt from his new organization helped to ease the transition.
“They were really ecstatic about me signing,” he said. “That made me feel a little bit better because it’s hard when you go and you get drafted with an organization and you think this is going to be the organization I’m going to make it to the big leagues with, and then you get traded. It kind of puts things into perspective. And it turns out this is probably the greatest thing that could happen for my career.”
Pivetta went from being a highly-rated prospect with the Nationals to being among the top of his class with the Phillies, but in an organization with a chance to potentially move up the ladder more quickly and even make more of an immediate impact. Though Washington made the pitcher unavailable to play in the prospect-laden Futures Game in July, Pivetta isn’t sure he would have been there anyway.
“You look at the Nationals system and where am I?” he said. “That’s why it’s a good thing I got traded, too. Where am I going to be placed with the prospects they have? Of course [Lucas] Giolito is going to go again, because he’s the No. 1 prospect in baseball, and then you’ve got a guy like Trea Turner who they just traded for, and Joe Ross probably would have gone too but he’s in the big leagues.
“So when you look at those things, there’s always next year maybe.”
Pivetta also went from being at the bottom of the Eastern League’s Western Division standings with the Senators to leading the Eastern Division with the Fightin’ Phils, who have won nine of 11 games since the Canuck joined the squad. The environment in Reading is a welcome reminder for Pivetta of what he experienced last year as he headed into playoffs with the Hagerstown Suns.
“It is kind of nice going from a last-place team to a first-place team, now that we’re peaking at the right time,” he said. “We have a really good chance of being in the playoffs … When I was in Hagerstown last year it was the exact same. The clubhouse is great, the guys have a lot of [energy] and it’s a really, really tight-knit group. Just to be able to fit into that right away has been awesome.”
Pivetta has also welcomed the fresh perspective his new coaching staff in Reading has already been able to provide.
“They’re awesome,” he said. “I’ve been working on some stuff with them here and it’s good. That’s also another thing about getting traded is you get to hear different people’s opinions on certain matters, so maybe something that someone else missed, they can help me out here.
“Everybody here wants you to succeed and they want to help you succeed. The transition hasn’t been that tough. It was tough the first couple days but since then it’s been awesome. I’ve fit in here perfectly fine and I’m very comfortable.”
With the Phillies making several changes throughout the year and as the trade deadline approached, the Fightin’ Phils roster has been even more fluid than usual. Reading manager Dusty Wathan believes that a strong core of successful players has kept them going and made it easier for anyone coming in.
“We’ve had a bunch of new guys obviously,” the skipper said. “It’s a credit to the core guys, J.P. [Crawford], [Brock] Stassi, [Andrew] Knapp. They’ve had some quick success and they trust each other, and they love to play baseball. It’s a fun thing to watch.
“These guys really root for each other. You get on some teams every once in a while where guys are kind of rooting against each other. You don’t see that here. You see this group saying, ‘You know what? Here’s a chance for quite a few of us to have a chance to play in Philadelphia together. We’re having a lot of fun here, but how much fun would this be in Philadelphia?’”
The former Canadian Junior National Team member will still know more players in the visiting dugout for the next couple days, as his squad matches up against Harrisburg for a three-game series, but it will be all business when he takes the mound to face them on Thursday, looking to build off of an encouraging turnaround in his last start.
“He’s been great,” Wathan said. “Nick’s a guy with a lot of talent. He’s got a mid-90s fastball and can really spin a breaking ball. There are a lot of things to work on with him, he’s still a young guy, and we’re very happy to have him in our organization. He’s progressed.
“[Friday’s] outing was a good building block for him. He came out, walked four in the first inning, but he also struck out three, and he was able to gather himself and he ended up going five innings and had seven strikeouts. He kept us in the ballgame. So he’ll be a fun guy to watch. I’m excited to keep watching him. I’m glad we got him.”
After posting a 2.29 ERA over 14 starts and 86 1/3 innings with 29 walks and 72 strikeouts to start the season with the class-A Potomac Nationals, Pivetta has allowed 21 runs over 25 innings between both Double-A teams, but is beginning to make the adjustments he will need to find success.
“It’s been a little rough,” he said. “But I’m starting to get used to it a little bit more. It’s more me beating myself up than the hitters beating me up right now. I did have a pretty bad game in Bowie but that was one inning and that’s it.
“I’ve only had a couple bad innings here, and the cards haven’t been falling where I need them to fall. I’ve got to keep working harder, preparing and going out with the same mindset and not let it get to me. I just keep working at what I need to work at and everything will fall into place after that.”
Playing for a winning team on a playoff run that can seemingly come back from anything – walking off the New Britain Rock Cats on both Friday and Saturday, and then overcoming a five-run deficit on Tuesday for its eighth consecutive victory – certainly hasn’t hurt Pivetta’s mindset, helping him to concentrate on where he’s playing and not worry about anything else.
“Everybody’s goal is to make it to the big leagues but it makes it easier when you focus on winning here to help yourself succeed in those spots,” he said. “Right now we’re fighting for a championship and that’s all I’m thinking about. Of course in the back of your mind, everybody wants to make it to the big leagues, but that’s going to come with everything, with time and progressing through the system.
“Right now I’m focusing on winning a championship with this team. If I get a September call up that would be awesome. If I can make it to the big leagues next year, that’s amazing.”