Among the most promising developers in the Nationals’ organization this season is right-hander Nick Pivetta, a hard-throwing, big-bodied starter who was promoted from Class A Potomac to Class AA Harrisburg earlier this month. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Pivetta has the prime pitcher’s frame the Nationals covet. With a mid-90s fastball and delivery that allows for a downward plane, he has the beginnings of top-of-the-rotation stuff they seek. He is rated as one of the top 10 prospects in the Nationals’ system, the fifth-rated pitcher behind Lucas Giolito, Joe Ross, Reynaldo Lopez and A.J. Cole.
Pivetta will make his second Class AA outing Friday in Harrisburg against the Bowie Baysox, who lead the Eastern League West Division. After pitching to a 2.29 ERA in 15 games with Potomac, he has allowed 10 runs in 10 innings with Harrisburg.
“His first start with us, he didn’t command his fastball real well,” Senators Manager Brian Daubach said. “Might have been a little bit nervous, first time at a new level, trying to impress, it’s human nature. I know he was throwing the ball great down in Potomac. We’re excited to see what happens with him in the second half.”
Despite those recent struggles and the challenge ahead Friday, Pivetta is in the midst of one of the best seasons of any pitcher in the organization. He went 7-4 in Potomac and struck out 72 batters in 86 1/3 innings, pitching to a 1.15 WHIP — progress from last season in Low-A Hagerstown, where he threw to a 4.22 ERA, less a strikeout pitcher than a get-ahead, get-contact type.
“I’m being more consistent than last year with everything: fastball, curveball, changeup, developing those pitches” Pivetta said. “That’s really what’s pushed me through to get a chance at this level.”
The Nationals chose Pivetta in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, and he played in the New York Penn League and the Gulf Coast league. He spent last year in Hagerstown before starting this year in Potomac, pitching well enough to earn quick promotion.
“It was a part of my goal set. I wanted to get (to Harrisburg) by at least the halfway point,” Pivetta said. “I’m here now, and I’m more than happy to be here.”
Part of Pivetta’s progress is keeping his arm slot consistent, something he says allows for greater consistency with his curveball and changeup. He started throwing the changeup more frequently earlier this year to go with a sinking fastball.
“I was working on a grip with my pitching coordinator that really clicked, and the amount it improved has been awesome. Now I’ve incorporated it into my game, and I can throw it in any count and it’s awesome.”
Adding the changeup allows Pivetta to push hitters off his fastball. In fastball counts, particularly when he is behind, Pivetta can still deceive hitters, trusting a pitch that looks like the fastball, but disrupts their timing. A changeup thrown consistently for strikes keeps hitters uncomfortable.
“I threw my first 3-0 changeup the other day and got a ground out out of the inning,” Pivetta said. “That helps.”
Pivetta said he notices more experienced hitters with more experienced approaches in his limited timed in Class AA, a challenge he hopes to meet with improved consistency. A baseball buzzword, to be sure, consistency often boils down to repeating delivery, arm slot and approach.
“It comes along with experience,” Pivetta said. “I’m 2 1/2 years in, and the amount off knowledge that I’ve learned and been able to incorporate into my game has helped me get this far. It’s just experience and playing baseball every single day, going out and improving on each start. Using each start to tell you who you are and how to become a Washington National one day.”