FORT MYERS, Fla. — Nick and Kristen Pivetta have been nomads for some time, unable to return to their native Canada because of strict pandemic protocols regarding crossing the border from the United States.
“We haven’t been home in almost two years,” said Nick, a righthander who was traded to the Red Sox last summer. “So we packed up and came here.”
Home is now a rented condo a short drive from JetBlue Park. They arrived in October for what in every way has been a fresh start.
Pivetta, 28, spent nearly five years with the Philadelphia Phillies. He made his major league debut with the team in 2017, won his first game a few weeks later, and struck out 13 Cardinals one memorable night in 2018.
But he welcomed the trade to Boston. It was time.
“I can’t speak on behalf of the Phillies. But I don’t feel they valued me as a starter anymore,” Pivetta said. “I was ready for some new scenery. It was best for both parties.”
That was easily confirmed, a Phillies official saying the team felt Pivetta was more confident in his abilities than a career 5.40 earned run average suggested he should be. They recognized his talent but were frustrated by his stubbornness.
The Red Sox took a chance on the talent, trading relievers Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman for Pivetta and righthander Connor Seabold.
Seabold, a former third-round pick with starter potential, was the key to the deal. But the Sox saw Pivetta as a project worth taking on, given his 95-mile-per-hour fastball and effective curveball.
Pivetta appeared in only three games last season before the Phillies demoted him to the workout group at the team’s Triple A ballpark in Allentown, Pa.
When the trade was made, the Sox sent a car service that toted Pivetta to their Triple A park in Pawtucket.
The Sox gave him two starts in the waning days of a lost season, and Pivetta allowed two runs on eight hits over 10 innings and struck out 13 with five walks.
“Those games were really important, getting around a new organization, doing the best I can to finish on a strong note,” Pivetta said. “It was all positive stuff.”
Now Pivetta has a chance to open the season in the rotation. He makes his first start of spring training Wednesday against the Twins.
Manager Alex Cora, who’s living a second chance of his own, likes what he has seen from Pivetta.
“We’ve been talking for a while,” Cora said. “One thing I told him when I got [to spring training], ‘You don’t have to prove people wrong.’ Which is the most important thing.
“He doesn’t have to show them or us that he’s good. We know he’s good.”
Pivetta may ultimately land in the bullpen, as his pitch mix, temperament, and 6-foot-5-inch, 220-pound frame seem well-tailored for relief work. But there’s nothing to lose trying him as a starter.
That Pivetta moved to Fort Myers and spent the winter working out at the team facility and getting to know the staff impressed the Sox.
“Any time a team goes out to get you and puts you in the position you want to be put in, for me as a starting pitcher, that’s a positive thing,” Pivetta said.
“I just have to work on commanding my pitches and going out there and competing. It’s not like I need to work on anything to make it better than it already is. It’s finding consistency.”
Pivetta has embraced opportunity in the past. As a high school senior growing up in British Columbia, he accepted a scholarship to New Mexico Junior College without first visiting the campus.
It was his best offer after missing his senior season with an elbow strain. Prior to that, Pivetta had been a member of Canada’s junior national team.
“I went on a whim,” he said. “Being a young kid from Canada, I just wanted a place to play. At the time, I was throwing 88 and had a sore arm. They offered me a full scholarship, so my parents didn’t have to pay. Perfect.”
Jake McCarter was Pivetta’s pitching coach from the fall of 2012 through the 2013 season.
“I was handed a gem,” he said. “First time I saw him play catch, I knew he had upside and would throw hard one day. You could see that from his stature and his arm action.
“You don’t go to junior college for a social life. You’re there to develop and play baseball. Once Nick hit 90, it kept building, and the rest is history.”
Pivetta had a dominant sophomore season and was a fourth-round pick of the Nationals in 2013. They sent him to the Phillies at the 2015 trade deadline for Jonathan Papelbon.
As he settles in with the Red Sox, Pivetta is working on taming his emotions with meditation.
Last week, before a session of live batting practice, he was spotted seated on a sunny patch of grass with his eyes closed.
“Just getting ready, calming down, and getting in the right mental space,” Pivetta said. “It’s something I picked up from my wife. Control your body, do some mental reps, and visualize what you want to accomplish. She’s really into it and it works.”
It’s all part of a fresh start.
“I can’t control what happened in the past. But I can control what I do on the mound,” Pivetta said. “My focus is here, winning games and moving forward.”