Jake Arrieta addresses the velocity concerns

Jake Arrieta addresses the velocity concerns

CLEARWATER, Fla. — As good as Jake Arrieta will look in red pinstripes, there's no hiding the fact that he comes with some red flags.

His average fastball velocity dropped from 94.9 mph in his Cy Young season of 2015 to 92.6 mph last season, according to PITCHf/x data.

This has been interpreted in some quarters as the pitcher entering a decline, an idea supported by the Chicago Cubs' curious lack of aggressiveness in attempting to re-sign him. The Cubs instead signed Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126 million deal.

Arrieta was asked about both topics upon joining the Phillies on Tuesday.

"I think there was a number of reasons that things didn't go in a different direction," he said of the Cubs, the team he helped win the 2016 World Series. "But that wasn't necessarily the direction that maybe I wanted to go in."

Arrieta said he would cherish his memories with the Cubs and he welcomed the "opportunity to bring a lot to the table" for his new club.

"My focus is now on the Phillies and I'm committed to winning as a Phillie and using the experiences that I've gained to each and every player in this organization's advantage," he said.

Arrieta notched a 1.77 ERA in 2015. It swelled to 3.53 last year. That was largely the product of a poor first half. His ERA before the all-star break was 4.35 as opposed to 2.28 after it. He was the old Arrieta in August, going 4-1 with a 1.21 ERA in six starts on his way to NL pitcher of the month honors.

Arrieta, 32, did not deny the velocity drop. But he made it clear that there's more to pitching than a big fastball.

"You get to a point in your career where you understand that pitching isn't necessarily all about velocity," he said. "I can't tell you how many times you'll see guys who have high velocity that can't have success at this level. There is a tremendous amount of learning that has to be incorporated into a starting pitcher's repertoire rather than just going out there and trying to blow guys away with just sheer stuff and velocity.

"That's an experience I had last year and to be able to learn from my first-half inconsistencies and turn it around in the second half. High velocity or not, I know exactly what I'm doing on the mound and I know how to utilize my stuff. Does that mean the velocity won't be up this year? No. Sometimes you have a dip one year and a spike the next.

"That's not necessarily a tremendous concern for me. It's an opportunity to learn more about yourself and to maybe utilize another variable in your game. If that velocity does go back to 95-96 then the league is in a lot of trouble. But I don't think that tells the entire story. Velocity is sexy in this game, but there are a lot of great pitchers that can pitch without it."

General manager Matt Klentak said the Phillies spent considerable time studying Arrieta's drop in velocity. He said the club was "comfortable" with its findings and "thrilled" with the pitcher's signing.

Arrieta comes out strong, but Kapler remains vague on timetable

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Arrieta comes out strong, but Kapler remains vague on timetable

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Ever since Jake Arrieta flew into town on Air Middleton and raised expectations for 2018, Phillies officials have said they would take a methodical approach with getting him ready for the regular season.

The Phils followed that plan in holding Arrieta to two innings and 31 pitches in the right-hander’s hotly anticipated spring debut against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday.

“We had a very specific pitch count in mind and we feel like we executed the innings and the pitch count to a T,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We did not want to push the envelope at all. There’s no reason to. We’re focused on the long view.”

Arrieta struck out the first two batters of the game then allowed a solo home run to two-time American League MVP Miguel Cabrera, a double, a single and another run over the balance of his outing. He had hoped to go three innings, but understands the team’s plan.

“I'm on board with what these guys intend to do,” said the 32-year-old pitcher, who signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phils last week. “I know they have my health and the team's success over the long haul in mind. That's the most important thing moving forward.”

Kapler liked what he saw from Arrieta.

“It was a real positive outing,” he said. “We wanted to see health and strength. We saw both of those things and he threw strikes.”

Twenty-two of Arrieta’s 31 pitches were strikes.

Arrieta’s arm strength was impressive. He touched 95 mph on the stadium radar gun. He also threw several fastballs that registered 94. His fastball velocity had been a concern as it dropped from 94.9 mph in his Cy Young season of 2015 to 92.6 mph last season, according to PITCHf/x data.

“My timing and my delivery were nice,” Arrieta said. “The ball was coming out of my hand good. Even though I'm not particularly worried about velocity, the velocity was nice today. Sinking fastball was really good. I threw some good curveballs. The cutter wasn't necessarily great, along with the changeup. But those will come with repetition.”

Arrieta said he had “a ton of nervous energy” before the start.

“Now that it's over, I take a deep breath and I remember what it feels like to be in a game situation,” he said. “Umpires, crowd. It felt great. I'm healthy. The ball is coming out good. To get the first one out of the way — even though it is a little bit later — it's a good sign.”

Kapler continued to play things close to the vest with Arrieta’s timetable. What is clear, however, is that Arrieta will get one more start in Florida before camp breaks on Tuesday. He could build to around 50 pitches in that one and be ready to start in New York on April 2, 3 or 4. If the Phils decide that Arrieta needs two more outings to prepare for the regular season, he could debut on April 7 at home against Miami. Either way, he lines up to make 30-plus starts.

Phillies' surprise honor for David Montgomery

Photo: Miles Kennedy

Phillies' surprise honor for David Montgomery

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies officials were conducting a meeting Thursday morning on the executive level of Spectrum Field to discuss plans for an expansion to the minor-league complex.

Just before 9:30 a.m., Dave Buck, the club's executive vice president, asked the group to take a walk over to the complex to look at some of the proposed changes.

It was all a ruse, a little ploy to lure David Montgomery to the other side and to an honor that left even the hardest of baseball men with a tear welling behind their sunglasses.

The Phillies named their indoor training facility in honor of Montgomery in a moving 30-minute ceremony that was attended by ownership, front office officials, many of the team's scouts and every player — including 175 minor leaguers — coach and manager in the organization.

Montgomery, who became club chairman in 2015, knew something was up when he saw the players assembled in uniform in the bullpen at the minor-league complex.

"I saw Odubel (Herrera) standing over there and thought, 'He's at the wrong field,' " Montgomery said after the event. "The next thing I know, Dave Buck is pushing me into the middle of this.

"I was stunned. I'm overwhelmed by what the organization has done."

Montgomery joined the Phillies' sales department in 1971 and eventually rose to club president in 1997. His contributions include a lucrative television deal, Citizens Bank Park and the 2008 World Series title. 

His love for the Phillies started way before that.

"My first memory is going to Connie Mack Stadium when I was about five," Montgomery said. "We had linoleum in our porch in the back in our house in Roxborough. I used to try and slide on the linoleum the way Richie Ashburn would slide into the bases. Then at age 24, I'm literally working with and sitting next to Richie in a cubicle at Veterans Stadium.

"I've just been so fortunate. I've had the opportunity to work for the team I rooted for in the city I've lived in and loved my entire life."

John Middleton, the team's managing partner, spoke during the ceremony. He described Montgomery as "a baseball man" and told the players that the state of the art facilities that they work and train in were the result of Montgomery's vision and commitment to player development. The Carpenter Complex minor-league facility has grown substantially since it was first planned and brought to life in the late 1960s by the late Paul Owens, the legendary Phillies executive for whom the entire complex is named.

Lifelong Phillies Roly deArmas and Larry Bowa spoke from the heart about how Montgomery always put respecting others first.

"David, you are the Phillie Way," Bowa said.

A banner emblazoned with the words David P. Montgomery Baseball Performance Center was unfurled. Montgomery looked at it with a tear in his eye.

"It's not about structures, though I couldn't be more honored," he said.

"It's about people."