Felipe Rivero, 23, was so nervous when he took the mound in the ninth inning of Friday’s 7-2 win that his legs were trembling. The recently-called up left-handed reliever’s first pitch was a 94-mph fastball a foot outside the strike zone to Chase Utley. His second missed, too.
“Once I threw a strike, I was ready,” Rivero said. The Venezuelan native finally did that with his third pitch, a 93-mph fastball at the knees called for a strike.
The Nationals had a six-run lead when Rivero entered the game and the Phillies are a left-handed-heavy team — the perfect situation for the rookie to get his feet wet. Rivero got Utley to pop out to third baseman Danny Espinosa and, finally, he relaxed.
“After the first out, I settled down,” he said after Washington’s 7-2 win against Philadelphia.
Rivero, acquired in the trade that brought Jose Lobaton to the Nationals from Tampa Bay before last season, flashed his lively arm. The starter-turned-reliever hit 96 mph with his fastball. He gave up three singles and a run, exacerbated by a throwing error from center fielder Michael A. Taylor. He struck out two batters — Cody Asche and Darin Ruf — both on 95-mph fastballs.
“He’s good,” catcher Wilson Ramos said. “He attacked the hitter really well. He faced a couple left-handed hitters. He threw good against them. Just one hanging pitch to [Ryan] Howard. But the rest, everything was good. I’m excited for him. A new teammate from my home [country]. That’s pretty good.”
The ball from his first pitch and first strikeout were waiting for Rivero at his locker when the game was over. He also received a copy of the day’s lineup card. Rivero said he would send a ball to his mother, Omaira, in Venezuela. His wife and 4-month-old son were in the stands at Nationals Park to see him pitch Friday.
And despite decent command of English, Rivero spoke to reporters through an interpreter, bullpen catcher Nilson Robledo, after the game because he was still so jittery and nervous about his debut.
“It’s been like five years waiting for this moment,” he said.