On Wednesday afternoon in Pawtucket, Nick Pivetta delivered his most impressive outing since the Red Sox acquired him from the Phillies. In six simulated innings, he gave up three runs — two on a mammoth homer by Josh Ockimey to center, one on an inside-the-park homer by Jarren Duran — but struck out nine.
The righthander’s reward? An additional year under Red Sox team control before he’s eligible for free agency.
With the 27-year-old’s start at the alternate site in Pawtucket on Wednesday, the earliest the Sox might summon Pivetta — acquired along with pitcher Connor Seabold for relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree — to pitch in the big leagues is next week. By that point, the team will have gained an extra year of team control over his big league rights, pushing back his eligibility for free agency to 2024.
Pivetta — 19-30 with a 5.50 ERA for the Phillies in parts of four big-league seasons — entered the 2020 season with two years and 94 days of big-league service time. In order to be eligible for free agency after the 2023 season, the 27-year-old would have needed to spend at least 28 days in the big leagues this year.
Pivetta spent the first 19 days of the season with the Phillies, allowing 10 runs in 5⅔ innings before being optioned to Philadelphia’s alternate site. The Sox likewise sent him to their alternate site in Pawtucket following the trade.
Not only will not calling him up until at least Sept. 20 keep him from free agency until after the 2024 season, it will keep him from becoming eligible for salary arbitration until the end of the 2021 season.
Pivetta was asked earlier this month about whether he had concerns that the Red Sox might keep him at the alternate site long enough to delay his free agency by a year.
“I think that’s a better question to ask [Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom],” he said. “I think all these things are in due time. The most I can do is build myself back up the best I can, and then give myself the best opportunity if I get called up to the big leagues to pitch there as a starter with those innings behind me.”
His workload has been built to that of a starter without restrictions. A callup next Tuesday could afford Pivetta two starts in the big leagues before the end of the season.
Another shot for Tanner Houck
The Red Sox were still buzzing on Wednesday about the big league debut of righthander Tanner Houck on Tuesday against the Marlins. Houck, 24, became the fourth Red Sox ever in his debut to pitch at least five shutout innings while striking out at least seven.
“He threw the [expletive] out of the ball,” said reliever Matt Barnes. “It was a lot of fun to watch.”
Houck will get another start on Sunday against the Yankees. Martín Pérez is scheduled to pitch in the series opener on Friday, with the Sox undecided on their Saturday starter.
Wait till next year?
Though it came with a “subject to change” disclaimer, Major League Baseball announced its 2021 spring training schedule, with the Red Sox slated to open against Northeastern University on Feb. 26 before commencing their Grapefruit League schedule at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers against the Pirates on Feb. 27. The Red Sox are scheduled to host the Yankees at JetBlue on March 3, then visit them at Steinbrenner Field on March 10. The team will play 33 games in Florida, 18 at home, concluding with a game at JetBlue on March 28 against the Orioles. The Sox will then finish the exhibition season with a scheduled home-and-home series against Atlanta on March 29 (at Truist Park) and 30 (at Fenway) . . . Alex Verdugo made his first start for the Red Sox in center on Wednesday against the Marlins, though he has plenty of familiarity at the position. He made 61 of his 102 starts with the Dodgers in center. “That’s actually his favorite position,” said manager Ron Roenicke, “but he’s good at all three of them.” Roenicke decided to give Jackie Bradley Jr. a day off on Wednesday with lefty Trevor Rogers on the mound for Miami . . . In Pawtucket, Duran’s inside-the-park homer against Pivetta happened when his sinking liner got under the glove of diving centerfielder Jeisson Rosario and rolled to the wall at McCoy Stadium. “I was saying to him that he could get an inside-the-park home run if he hurried,” texted PawSox manager Billy McMillon. “It’s really fun watching him run.” The homer was the eighth in roughly eight weeks of games at the alternate site for Duran. In 2019, he hit just five homers in 132 games between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland . . . Righthander Nate Eovaldi, who threw 40 pitches over three innings in his return from the injured list (calf strain) on Saturday against the Rays, expects to be able to go “a lot longer” against the Marlins on Thursday.