BALTIMORE — The last three pitches thrown by Nick Pivetta here Wednesday were, in succession, a 95-mph fastball, a 79-mph curveball and an 82-mph slider. And after swinging through the slider to cap a 10-pitch strikeout, Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis took a few steps down the first-base line, removed his helmet and placed his hands on his head.
It was the look of defeat.
Pivetta has left a lot of hitters looking that way so far this season. And if you’re wondering whether the Phillies will be able to sustain their early-season success and stay in playoff contention through the summer and into September, think of Pivetta on days like this as a walking, talking, 6-foot-5 billboard stating that, in fact, they can.
Facing an Orioles team that despite its miserable record (13-29) still has Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo and Davis in the middle of the order, Pivetta gave up two hits and matched his career high of 11 strikeouts over seven innings in a 4-1 matinee victory played between the raindrops at Camden Yards.
The Phillies have a 24-16 record and are eight games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2011 season. Since their 1-4 start, they have gone 23-12, the second-best winning percentage in baseball over that span behind the New York Yankees.
Pivetta gave up a solo homer to Jones in the first inning, then retired 12 consecutive batters before Davis’ one-out double in the fifth. He was still going strong in the seventh inning, hitting 96 mph on the radar gun and striking out the side.
With Pivetta’s pitch count reaching 99, the Phillies elected to go to the bullpen for the eighth. And there were a few tense moments. Tommy Hunter gave up two hits and Luis Garcia walked Trey Mancini to load the bases with one out. But Garcia retired both Jones and Machado and has now stranded all 15 runners he has inherited this season.
The Phillies scored three runs in the sixth inning. With the lineup seeing Orioles starter Andrew Cashner for a third time, Cesar Hernandez tied the game with a homer on the first pitch of the inning. Carlos Santana drew a two-out walk, went to third on Nick Williams’ single and scored on a single by Maikel Franco. One batter later, Williams scored on a single by Pedro Florimon.
Kapler turned to Edubray Ramos to begin the ninth inning. After Ramos recorded the first two outs, both via strikeout, Kapler brought in embattled closer Hector Neris, who got Davis to ground out to end the game.
But this victory was about Pivetta. Nearly two weeks ago he got knocked out in the first inning by the Washington Nationals. Since then, he has allowed one run on six hits and one walk in 12 innings over two starts against the Orioles and San Francisco Giants.
In all, Pivetta has a 3.72 ERA in nine starts. He has given up fewer than three runs in six of those outings.
More than anything, it has been the emergence of Pivetta and fellow righthander Vince Velasquez that has general manager Matt Klentak believing the Phillies might actually be for real.
It’s difficult to disagree.