Lively settles down, gets another quality start

Lively settles down, gets another quality start

PHILADELPHIA -- The newest addition to the Phillies starting rotation is pitching like he's been here before. With another serviceable outing Sunday, Ben Lively became the first Phillies starter to begin his Major League career with four consecutive quality starts since Brandon Duckworth in 2001.

Two things stick out.

First, he's displayed the fortitude of a much more experienced pitcher. In his last two starts, he allowed three early runs. In Boston on June 13, he allowed a run in each of the first three innings before throwing four straight scoreless frames. On Sunday, the D-backs took him deep twice in the first five batters of the game. Both times, he found his footing nicely.

"I pretty much just blew it up and started back over, kind of settled back down," Lively said of his 33-pitch first inning in Sunday's 5-4 loss to the D-backs. He likened it to the Boston game when he came out "a little amped" in the first inning and expended 28 early pitches as a result.

Those are the two highest pitch counts for any of his 27 innings this season. He's worked around both of them and settled into a groove, which is impressive for a pitcher with no big league experience before June.

"I'm still going to have the same mindset of attacking and being that same guy out there no matter whether I'm up or down," Lively said.

Later in games, when starting pitchers statistically struggle the more times they venture through the opposing lineup, Lively has gotten better. In his first trip through the order, Lively has allowed a .389 batting average (14-for-36). The Phillies rotation allowed a .257 batting average the first time through the order entering Sunday.

But after opponents have already seen Lively once, they're hitting a measly .200 (15-for-75). Phillies starters have allowed a .298 batting average after their first trip through the lineup. Lively's attention to detail and mental acuity play a part in reversing that trend.

"I remember hitters in the first round, what happened, why'd they get that hit," Lively said. "I just feel like I have a better approach to them after seeing them live."

Secondly, he's providing length and affording the bullpen extra rest. He lasted six innings Sunday, the last five scoreless, after throwing seven in each of his first three starts.

When he was called up to start the Phillies' 53rd game of the season, the rotation had managed eight starts (15 percent) of seven innings or more. In the 16 games since, they've lasted seven innings six times (38 percent). Three have been Lively. Given that uptick, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin postulated that Lively's performances could be the kick in the pants the rest of the rotation needed.

Lively struck out six batters Sunday after ringing up five total in his first three starts. He's happy with where he is after four big league starts.

"You always have a bit of hope in there coming into the big leagues," he said. "Yeah I'm feeling pretty good."

Ben Harris is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.