Phillies players jacked to have Jake Arrieta

Phillies players jacked to have Jake Arrieta

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies clubhouse buzzed with excitement Monday afternoon. Jake Arrieta is on his way and the stakes have been raised for this club.

“I don’t know what other thought there would be other than it’s a great move for us,” catcher Cameron Rupp said. “How can you think otherwise? It’s exciting. It’s a guy who has established himself in the big leagues, been to a World Series. There’s a lot of good things that can come from not only having him on our pitching staff, but in our clubhouse as well.

“I’m sure that predictive stat of how many games we’re going to win just went up.

“There’s a lot of good things happening here. It’s nice to see it.”

Arrieta's three-year, $75 million contract became official when he passed his physical exam in Philadelphia on Monday. He will be introduced Tuesday at a 9 a.m. news conference in Clearwater. To make room for Arrieta on the 40-man roster, the Phillies designated Tommy Joseph for assignment (see story)

The Phillies won just 66 games last season, though they did play .500 ball over their final 76 games. They would likely need to improve their overall win total by 20 to nibble around the second wild-card spot. Improvement in all corners of the roster is needed, but with Arrieta and Aaron Nola accounting for 40 percent of the club’s starts, the Phillies’ chances are better today than they were yesterday.

At the very least, Arrieta's signing indicates that the organization’s tack is shifting from rebuilding to contending.

“It shows that the turning of the tide is a lot sooner than I think we all thought,” pitcher Jerad Eickhoff said. “This whole camp has been real positive and there was this sense that it could happen sooner than later, but this is just another piece. It's a pretty exciting time.”

Arrieta is one of four free agents signed by the Phillies this winter, along with Carlos Santana and relievers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter. Arrieta and Hunter were teammates in Baltimore and remain close friends. Hunter spent the winter trying to convince his pal to sign with the Phillies.

“I was coming hard in the paint, man,” Hunter said with a laugh.

On Sunday, Arrieta called Hunter (via FaceTime) and told him he’d reached agreement with the Phillies.

“He’s a Cy Young winner and a great clubhouse guy," Hunter said.

Can his addition turn the Phillies into contenders?

“The team could have made a run without him,” Hunter said. “You never know in baseball. I don’t want to put that burden or weight on one person and say that guy is going to transform an entire organization, but if you asked him if there’s anybody that could do it, it’d be him. He’s a confident guy and you have to be at the level he’s pitched at the last few years. You have to walk around with that swag and I think it’s going to take a lot of pressure off a lot of people having him here.”

Hunter was crowned champion of the team’s clubhouse ping-pong tournament last week. Will he give his new teammate a shot at the title?

“He can step in line like everybody else,” Hunter said. “Back of the bus, kid.”

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?


BRADENTON, Fla. — Gabe Kapler played most of what figures to be his opening day lineup on Friday and the Phillies responded with one of their best games of the Grapefruit League schedule in beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-2.

The only regular not in the starting lineup was shortstop J.P. Crawford. Bench candidate Jesmuel Valentin played there (see story).

Opening day starter Aaron Nola pitched four shutout innings, gave up four hits, a walk and struck out five. He threw 64 pitches and 45 were strikes.

Maikel Franco belted two homers, both bombs to left. One was a two-run shot on a 3-0 fastball, the other a grand slam.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a good showing by the Phils without another impressive performance from the man who has been the best player in camp, Scott Kingery. He came off the bench, played center field, right field and third base, and stroked a hard single to right.

It is doubtful that Kingery will be on the opening day roster, but it’s looking more and more like he could be up with the big club as soon as April 13. If Kingery stays in the minors until then, the Phillies will control his rights through 2024. If he makes the opening day roster, he could be eligible for free agency after 2023. Keeping Kingery down for a few weeks won’t sit well with some fans, but it makes good baseball sense, especially for a team that does not project as a slam-dunk contender.

Kapler raved about a play Kingery made at third.

“Wow, wow,” the manager said. “His ability to go to his left and make that strong throw. He showed off that incredible arm and that versatility.”

Kapler also liked Franco’s power. The third baseman, entering a make-or-break season with the Phillies, is hitting just .192 on the spring, but he leads the club with five homers. Franco has closed his stance by bringing his front foot closer to the plate. He is getting more comfortable with the stance, which the Phillies hope will prompt him to use the middle of the field and stop pulling off balls.

“He attacked that 3-0 pitch,” Kapler said. “That was pretty impressive.”

Nola said he was “ready to go” for the opener.

Kapler concurred and compared Nola to a former Cy Young winner.

“Perfect tune-up for opening day, got him right where we wanted him with pitches — and he got to that pitch count by throwing strikes, a lot of them, and really attacking with pitches," Kapler said of Nola.

“He’s starting to look to me a lot like — I saw Zack Greinke in the American League when he was with Kansas City — kind of a familiar look to the way that he uses the gas pedal and the brake effectively and fills up the strike zone with all his pitches. His calm, easy, collected demeanor is really reminiscent of some of the best pitchers in baseball.”

The Phillies play the Tigers in Lakeland on Saturday.

Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

BRADENTON, Fla. — Less than a week before opening day, there are still a number of unanswered questions surrounding the Phillies.

About the only thing known for sure is that Aaron Nola will start Thursday in Atlanta. The right-hander made his final spring tune-up Friday afternoon against the Pirates.

Some of the questions that need to be answered before the Phillies pack up and leave Florida on Tuesday include:

• When will Jake Arrieta join the rotation? Will it be April 2, 3 or 4 in New York? Will it be during the team’s first homestand, possibly April 7? Arrieta threw 31 pitches in his first spring start Thursday. A bullpen session over the weekend and his next start, likely 50 or so pitches on Tuesday, will offer team officials a better idea on when he’ll be ready.

• Who else will be in the rotation? Nothing has been announced, but Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta appear to be locks with Nola and eventually Arrieta. Zach Eflin could be the fifth starter, if the Phils use one the first time through the rotation. He could also piggyback with Arrieta in New York if the Phils wanted to get Arrieta going that early. Ben Lively and Drew Hutchison remain candidates to make the club as the fifth starter, should the Phils use one during the first 10 days of the season.

• Who's in the bullpen? Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Luis Garcia and Adam Morgan are locks. That likely leaves three openings. One spot will likely go to a lefty, Hoby Milner or Zac Curtis. Right-handers Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano seem to be vying for one spot and the final one could go to Lively or Hutchison. They are both stretched out and could provide the bullpen length that injured Mark Leiter Jr. would have.

• How about bullpen roles? Manager Gabe Kapler is not one to speak in absolutes. He is loath to define roles in his bullpen or batting order. He’s keeping options open and could assign roles on a nightly basis based on matchups and research that the team’s growing analytics department digs up. Neris went 20 for 20 in save chances while giving up just three runs in 19⅔ innings after June 27 last season. Logic would dictate that he'd be the closer. But will he be every night? Will Kapler use him in a matchup situation in the seventh inning some night? Time will tell. Same for batting order construction.

• Who will be on the bench? Infielder/outfielder Pedro Florimon has played well and looks like a lock. That leaves one or two openings, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. Veterans Ryan Flaherty and Adam Rosales were both granted their release. That leaves Jesmuel Valentin and Roman Quinn, both 40-man roster guys, as the two lead candidates. There might be room for both, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. It also would not be shocking to see the team send Quinn to Triple A to get more playing time. The Phils appear to be leaning toward carrying Andrew Knapp as their second catcher over Cameron Rupp, who has a minor-league option remaining.