Complete game gem culmination of impressive turnaround for Pivetta

May 19—There was a point earlier this spring where Nick Pivetta could hardly get anyone out.

Throughout the month of April Pivetta struggled with just about every aspect of his game. His stuff was subpar, his command wasn't sharp, and at one point he was allowing more than an earned run per inning.

But at some point in early May he turned the corner, and since then the results have been night and day. That all culminated with Wednesday's brilliant complete-game 5-1 win over the Houston Astros, which was among the best outings of his career and likely the best by any Red Sox starter this season.

Pivetta got off to a somewhat inauspicious start, allowing a leadoff home run at the end of a 10-pitch at bat by Jose Altuve, but from that point on he essentially hogtied the defending American League champions. Following Altuve's blast Pivetta went on to retire the next 18 batters he faced, and after allowing a leadoff double to Michael Brantley to start the seventh he sent down the last nine Astros to finish the outing strong.

His final pitching line: nine innings, two hits, one run, no walks and eight strikeouts on 112 pitches, 78 for strikes.

"He had that look," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who joked he didn't even want to go near Pivetta and suggest removing him from the game in the later innings. "This is why you love baseball, right? You go from what happened last night to a 10-pitch at bat homer and it looks like 'oh here we go again,' and he did an outstanding job."

Pivetta became the first Red Sox pitcher to throw a complete game since Chris Sale in 2019, and while his outing was without a doubt his best of the season, it also continued what is becoming an encouraging trend.

Dating back to his May 7 start against the Chicago White Sox Pivetta has now surrendered two earned runs in his last 21 innings, allowing just one walk while striking out 20.

During that stretch he's also nearly cut his season ERA in half, going from 7.84 before the Chicago start to 4.22 now.

What's been the secret to his success? Cora said Pivetta's fastball has been much better, and Pivetta said things turned when he made a few simple adjustments.

"It's my mechanics, it's my timing. Just that to be honest with you, it's as simple as that, nothing more," Pivetta said, adding that he had a lot of help from the coaching staff identifying what was wrong and correcting the issues. "It's been a really good group effort and I'm really appreciative of all those guys, and then just getting more confident."

Pivetta's breakthrough has been a welcome sign for the Red Sox, whose starting pitching has emerged as a surprising area of strength. Boston's starters have collectively posted a 3.46 ERA for the season, and recently they have allowed two runs or fewer in 18 of the last 25 games, posting a 2.77 ERA over that time.

With Michael Wacha expected to return from the 15-day injured list Friday, Garrett Whitlock locked firmly into the rotation and now Pivetta delivering some of the best performances of his career, the Red Sox suddenly have the arms to keep up with anybody.

Email: mcerullo@northofboston.com. Twitter: @MacCerullo.