Pivetta and Phillies take down Braves, trim deficit to a half-game

Pivetta leads Phillies to 3-0 win
It's doubtful during Spring Training that anybody circled a May match-up between the Braves and Phillies to be a battle for first place in the NL East, but that's the situation we find ourselves in right now.

Two teams stocked with young talent that won't meet again until September, both silencing critics and outperforming prognosticators through the first quarter of the season.

Baseball can be a funny game.

The Braves entered Monday night with a 1 1/2 game lead in the division over the Phillies, having won six of the nine contests already this year between the two teams. It was Philadelphia's turn to slug back.

Nick Pivetta tossed another gem, carrying the Phillies to a 3-0 win while trimming the Braves lead in the division to a half game. It was perhaps the most meaningful baseball game played at Citizens Bank Park since the Phillies made a push for the Wild Card in September 2012.

"It makes your heart beat a little faster in the dugout,'' Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said afterward (see video). "As a fan of baseball, it's nice to see two teams with really rich history and amazing fans and a rich history of winning compete for first place in the National League East. I'm a baseball fan at heart, and thinking about that gives me goosebumps.''



Pivetta struck out seven over seven frames, scattering just four hits. He's surrendered one run over his last 19 innings spanning three straight starts. His ERA over that span is an eye-popping 0.47. Oh yeah, he has 25 strikeouts over his last three starts, too.

The spark for Pivetta was his start in Washington earlier this month, having surrendered six runs and failing to pitch beyond the first inning. The loss forced him to recalibrate.

“Games like Washington are going to happen. It’s really what you do after that, you’re really going to find yourself,” Pivetta told reporters afterward. “It’s just going out there: What do I need to do? Having fun in the game still. We’re winning, playing great, just build off the energy that we have going on in here, it makes my life a lot easier I don’t have to think about a lot of things.”

Nick Williams eased Pivetta's mind a bit in the fourth inning, hitting an opposite-field solo-shot on a pitch that jammed him inside. The homer gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead and ultimately proved the difference. Aaron Altherr delivered a pinch-hit two-run homer in the seventh to add insurance.

Beyond the bats, Jorge Alfaro wowed defensively by showcasing his cannon for an arm several times on the night, including nailing Ender Inciarte on a drag bunt play at first base that pulled him to the left of the pitcher's mound for the final out of the contest.



So smitten by Alfaro's defensive performance, Kapler compared Alfaro's defensive prowess on the night to Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez saying even he wouldn't have been able to make the play that led to the final out. Yep, Pudge.

"I don't think anybody else makes that play,'' Kapler said. "I've been with them both, and from the standpoint of athleticism, arm strength, foot speed, and quickness, they're neck-and-neck.''

High praise, but Alfaro continues to show he's an asset behind the plate, particularly with a strong arm that can neutralize speed threats on the base path.

Seranthony Dominguez handled the eighth inning, highlighted by Freddie Freeman whiffing on three pitches. Hector Neris tossed the ninth to secure the save.

Monday was the 10th time the Phillies and Braves met this season. It was a counter from the Phillies to the Braves early dominance. There are two more games to be played this week at Citizens Bank Park between the clubs, it'll be interesting to see how the bout continues.

Tuesday's contest will be a battle for first place.

Having fun yet?
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Follow Patrick on Twitter: @PGordonPBR

BY PATRICK GORDON
Managing Editor
pgordon@philadelphiabaseballreview.com

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