Top five storylines of Phillies spring training so far this year

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CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 29: Darin Ruf #18 of the Philadelphia Phillies signs autographs with the fans prior to the start of the Spring Training Game against the New York Yankees on March 29, 2016 at Bright House Field, Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 29: Darin Ruf #18 of the Philadelphia Phillies signs autographs with the fans prior to the start of the Spring Training Game against the New York Yankees on March 29, 2016 at Bright House Field, Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /
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Phillies
CLEARWATER, FL – FEBRUARY 20: Nick Pivetta #43 of the Philadelphia Phillies poses for a portrait on February 20, 2018 at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /

A new approach for Nick Pivetta

The Phillies entered spring training with their rotation looking largely unchanged compared to the end of the 2017 season. There is a strong chance they enter the regular season the same way. If they do, they will need some of their young starters to take a step forward.

Nick Pivetta is hoping to be the one that shines this season after a trying debut. He struck out 9.47 batters per nine innings, but a 9.8 percent walk rate, 18.2 percent home-run-to-fly-ball ratio, and 1.51 WHIP led to a 6.02 ERA.

Despite those poor numbers, the Phillies still believe Pivetta can be a quality major-league pitcher. They asked him to study Houston’s Justin Verlander and how he locates his fastball up in the zone. Pivetta said the club told him to watch how Verlander pitched in the playoffs last year.

Manager Gabe Kapler said trying to get above hitters’ swings as they try to launch the ball in the air is the key: [quote via Matt Breen of Philly.com]

More from Phillies News

"“We identified some pitch characteristics and Nick’s fastball plays beautifully at various spots in the zone. One of them is up,” manage Gabe Kapler said. “But if you think about the swing planes we’re teaching now, trying to get the ball in the air, getting above those bats is not a terrible thing. Sometimes one of the things that keeps that ball above the bat is a ball that spins really fast. A high spin rate stays up in the zone like that.”"

Pivetta gave up a lot of home runs last year, so throwing even more high fastballs could wind up backfiring. However, if he can find a way to emulate Verlander and avoid the long ball, he should see improved numbers this season.

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