Photo of Ben Lively pitching against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 4, 2017 by Cheryl Pursell.
THE GAME: Thursday July 13, 2017 against the Rochester Red Wings. The game was the first game back after the Triple-A All-Star Break. Lively was optioned back to Lehigh Valley on July 9th after spending time in the Phillies rotation. His last outing was July 5th against the Pittsburgh Pirates and he allowed four runs – two earned – in four innings of work for the Phillies.
THE BACKGROUND: Lively had some impressive points in his stay with the Phillies. Against the Mets on June 30th, he struggled early in the game and his pitch count spiraled upward, but he was able to hold the Mets to just single runs in the second and fourth innings. In a start in which it looked like Lively wouldn’t make it through more than four innings, he gave the Phillies 6 1/3 innings, giving up two earned runs on five hits and four walks, throwing 105 pitches.
In his final start against the Pirates, Lively’s own error led to two unearned runs and he made it through just four innings of work. In seven starts with the Phillies this season, Lively was 1-4 with a 3.80 ERA.
WHAT HE SHOWED
Swinging Strikes/Called Strikes/Foul Balls: 26/20/13
First pitch strikes: 17 out of 24
Fastest Pitch: 92 (twice); Slowest Pitch: 71 (once)
Leadoff men allowed on: 0 out of 6
Line: 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, WP (7-1)
Lively is one of a few pitching prospects in the organization who doesn’t throw very hard, but uses command and uses location to get outs. Something about Lively must be hard to pick up, because he had hitters swinging and missing at a lot of high fastballs that were 90 or 91 miles-per-hour.
Early on, Lively was having some trouble commanding his curveball, but much of that could have been because he hadn’t pitched in eight days and then sat through an hour and 41-minute rain delay before the start of the game. Once he settled in, he was able to throw the curve for more strikes and used it to get outs in a couple situations.
“It took me a little bit to kind of get comfortable tonight,” said Lively after the game. “Once I got settled in and got into more of a rhythm, things started to come together. Early on though, it was just a matter of establishing the fastball and paying attention to how the hitters were approaching their at-bats so I could build off that later.”
Lively didn’t appear to use his change-up as much as he sometimes does, but instead, worked with the slider and curve off of the fastball. While he’s generally in a spot where he has to keep his pitches down to be effective, he was elevating some pitches, but hitters weren’t picking them up well enough to do much damage.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Phillies have to draw some answers about their starting rotation. Jeremy Hellickson is likely to be traded in the near future, Vince Velasquez is getting close to coming off the disabled list, Jerad Eickhoff came off the DL just before the break and pitched well against San Diego and nobody is quite sure if Mark Leiter is a starter or a reliever long-term. And then, there’s Nick Pivetta and Lively with Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson hanging around the edges.
Lively figures to have a good shot at securing a rotation spot, but just has to build consistency. With Lively, Eflin and Thompson at Triple-A, Lively is the next one to head back to Philadelphia when an opening arises.
A lot will likely be figured out in the next few weeks, thanks in part, to the trade deadline looming. One other potential question mark is what happens with Velasquez. It has long been considered that his best spot might be as a back of the bullpen reliever, but with concerns about his arm, the Phillies have to decide if that role is truly better for him. In order to limit his innings – which the Phillies want to do this season – Velasquez could be put into the bullpen, which would also give at least a glimpse of how he might respond to that job.
Ben Lively has the stuff to be a major league pitcher. Not an ace, but more of a middle to back end of the rotation starter. On a night when he was shaking off some rust and didn’t necessarily have his best stuff, Lively was able to get hitters out and give his team more than just a chance to win with six shutout innings. It’s just a matter of figuring out exactly where he fits in and how the Phillies are going to clear that spot for him.