In the roughly six weeks that Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has had to get acquainted with Jake Arrieta, a few characteristics about the $75 million ace have been self-evident.
Wipeout sinker? Seen it.
Nasty cutter? Yep, seen that, too.
Leadership qualities? Check.
But one thing Arrieta seldom did in his first two Phillies starts was generate swings and misses. It happened only nine times in 162 pitches, a 5.6 percent whiff rate that paled in comparison to his 9.0 percent career average.
“I haven’t even noticed it,” Kapler said, dismissing the statistical dip to the proverbial small sample size provided by the first month of any season.
Still, it was striking to watch Arrieta miss bats Thursday night in a series-opening 7-0 trouncing of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In chilly conditions, and with the wind whipping so hard to right field that any ball in the air had even more chance than usual to leave Citizens Bank Park, the righthander racked up 12 swings and misses in 97 pitches. He allowed only one hit — an infield single — in seven innings and struck out 10 batters, four more than his total from those two aforementioned starts.
The Phillies supported Arrieta with five runs in the second inning on Rhys Hoskins’ solo homer and a pair of two-out singles by Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera on full-count pitches from Pirates starter Jameson Taillon. The Phils added two runs in the fifth on RBI singles by Herrera and J.P. Crawford.
But Arrieta’s dominance was the show-stopper — and precisely the sort of performance from a former Cy Young Award winner that the Phillies expected when they took the plunge and signed him as a free agent midway through spring training. He became the 10th pitcher in franchise history to strike out at least 10 batters while allowing no more than one hit, joining Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Kevin Millwood, Randy Wolf, Tommy Greene, Steve Carlton, Jim Bunning, Harvey Haddix and Curt Simmons.
It was far and away the most complete outing yet for Arrieta. While other starters who signed late in the offseason or during spring training have struggled early in the season (Minnesota’s Lance Lynn and Baltimore’s Alex Cobb, to name two), Arrieta gave up only two earned runs in both his Phillies debut April 8 against the Miami Marlins and April 14 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Clearly, though, Arrieta was still rounding into form. Neither outing was nearly as eye-opening.
“One thing I’ve noticed about Jake is he doesn’t just have a nasty sinker, he doesn’t just have a nasty cutter, but he’s also got a lot of savvy and he’s got a tremendous amount of deception,” Kapler said before the game. “Some days, he’s going to have a ton on his fastball and other days he might not have as much. But he always has his deception, he always has his savvy characteristics, he always has movement on his pitches.”
Against the Pirates, Arrieta had it all. His sinker was particularly devastating, as Pirates rightfielder Gregory Polanco could attest. Polanco swung through three sinkers in his first two at-bats — and four pitches overall, including a wicked 79-mph curveball — en route to a pair of strikeouts.
In the fourth inning, Arrieta mowed through the middle of the Pirates’ lineup, fanning Starling Marte on a slider, getting Josh Bell to ground out and whiffing Corey Dickerson on a sinker. Arrieta permitted three base runners, none of whom advanced beyond first base.
Arrieta set down the final nine batters he faced and 17 of the last 18. And while he was cruising, Kapler took advantage of a one-touchdown lead to lift his ace after seven innings, the hearty souls among the announced crowd of 19,071 offering their applause.
It was just as well. On warmer nights later in the season, the Phillies are hoping for more of the same from Arrieta, who offered a glimpse of the full package.
Published at Fri, 20 Apr 2018 02:13:19 +0000