By Mitch Nathanson, Historical Columnist
Interesting article in the Inky the other day, pontificating on the future role of Nick Pivetta. Once considered a prime candidate to fill the role of starter, now considered for a role in the bullpen, his ultimate role remains unsettled. But I think I know what it will be.
Nick Pivetta has all the makings of the sort of guy you’re most likely going to forget when you look back years later trying to recall the nightmare rotations the Phillies of the late teens put together. You’ll no doubt remember Aaron Nola because he’ll be quickly recalled as the only one who actually resembled a legitimate Major League starter during this era. In his way, he’s the Steve Carlton of the current group, although Carlton’s 346.1 innings pitched in 1972 renders any comparison to Nola, whose goal is to reach 200 innings every season, somewhat ridiculous. Regardless. Somebody has to be the Carlton of this group and nobody else is even in the stratosphere. So you’ll remember Nola. No question.
You’ll also probably remember Jake Arrieta because he was a significant free agent bust and just flat-out looks funny in his uniform. You can always tell when Arrieta is on the mound. Nothing seems to fit correctly, everything’s just a bit off. And he’s usually out of the game by the fifth inning after yelling something stupid at someone who only did what he was being paid to do when a flat frisbee sails right over the heart of the strike zone. You won’t forget Arrieta.
Vince Velasquez will likewise stand out because he’s been singularly horrid during his tenure here, after tantalizing us with an otherworldly start back in April of 2016. After shutting out the Padres while striking out 16 we all thought we had something. And we did. We had a really crappy pitcher who took forever to make it past the fourth inning save that one fantastic start. It will be difficult to forget someone who was as painful to watch as Velasquez.
And you’ll remember Zach Eflin for no other reason than because his name reminds you of Zac Efron. You won’t remember him for any other reason but so what? You’ll remember him nevertheless.
Which leaves Pivetta. Why would anybody ever remember Nick Pivetta? He wasn’t a high draft choice and he didn’t come here with any sort of fanfare – he was the penance the Phils were compelled to suffer in exchange for the Nationals’ taking Jonathan Papelbon off their hands – so he wasn’t on anyone’s radar. And outside of one hot stretch at Lehigh Valley, he was an invisible man on the minor league circuit. And then there’s the name – Nick Pivetta. Who remembers a Nick Pivetta? Everybody went to high school with a Nick Pivetta. And nobody remembers that guy, either.
For as long as there has been baseball, there has been a guy on every team, usually a pitcher, you can’t remember. From the Phillies of the ‘80s, Bruce Ruffin is the guy you struggle to recall. He was sometimes a starter, sometimes a reliever, but always forgettable. Don Carman might very well have been that guy but for the fact that Harry Kalas so loved rolling his name around his mouth before expelling it that you can't forget Don Carman.
Going even further back, to the ‘70s, I think that guy was Ron Schueler. I say “I think” because if I knew for sure then he wouldn’t be that guy then, would he? But, yeah, I’m pretty sure he was. He won a few games, lost a few more, and never distinguished himself in any way. Baseball Reference tells me he played for eight seasons, which is seven more than I remember him playing. But I do remember that the mid-70s Phils had Carlton, Jim Lonborg, Wayne Twitchell, Tommy Underwood, Jim Kaat, Larry Christenson and somebody else in their rotation. That somebody else was Ron Schueler.
Today’s somebody else is Nick Pivetta. He’s not the worst and he’s not the best. He’s just there. And on a team that’s going nowhere, just being there is as good as not being there at all when it comes to one’s legacy. He’s the guy you’re going to forget merely because he’s not as awful as Vince Velasquez. 10, 15 years from now you’ll be talking Phillies with your friends and the late teens’ Phils will come up. You’ll of course remember Bryce Harper because he’ll still be there. Pinch-hitting at $23 million per annum. And you’ll remember Hoskins and Realmuto, and at least one of your friends will call out “Maikel Franco!” and you’ll go “Yes!”
Then the discussion will turn to the rotation and you’ll all name Nola and, with some effort, the others. But then there will be one spot left and nobody will be able to nail it. It’ll be on the tip of your collective tongues but still just beyond reach. Finally, you'll give up and one of you will Google the Phillies’ 2019 rotation. “Nick Pivetta,” will pop up. “Oh, yeah,” you’ll all go. “That guy.” There’ll be a moment of quiet contemplation and then one of you will go, “Jesus. Nick Pivetta.”
Then you’ll all start talking about something else.