Jake Arrieta

Phillies smell the coffee, win fifth straight in blowout fashion

Phillies smell the coffee, win fifth straight in blowout fashion

BOX SCORE

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There are no victory cigars in Gabe Kapler’s office. No, Brother Gabe had a coffee-scented candle burning on his desk after his Phillies pummeled the Tampa Bays Rays for their fifth win in a row and seventh in the last eight games Saturday night at Tropicana Field.

While the candle was pleasing to the manager’s olfactory sensations, it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as what his eyes saw over the previous three hours, especially in the second inning when the Phillies jumped Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer for six runs en route to a 9-4 win (see first take).

“It's difficult to square a guy like Archer up consistently any time, let alone have it all come in one big inning,” Kapler said. “Up and down the lineup, we had contributions and a lot of loud contact. Our guys did a good job getting hits with two strikes. Guys did a good job of putting the barrel on the ball and we were able to have a big inning.”

Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta approved of the big inning. It helped him cruise to his first win with his new club.

“Being able to put up a six-spot on a guy like Archer who has tremendous stuff in his home ballpark,” Arrieta said. “The potential of this offense is what we’re showing right now.

“Now we’ve got a chance for another sweep. Back-to-back sweeps and seven of eight, five in a row — we’re feeling pretty good, as we should, and this is the type of environment that we want to have consistently in this clubhouse. We’re having a blast.”

Arrieta went 6 2/3 innings in his second start with the Phils. He didn’t have blow-away stuff — he got a swing and miss on just four of 88 pitches — but was economical with his pitches and had good sink. He got 14 outs on ground balls.

“My put-away stuff needs to get a little more refined,” Arrieta admitted. “That will come.”

The Phillies are 8-5. Their starting pitchers have recorded a stingy 2.69 ERA over the last 10 games. Eight of those games have been against Miami, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay, three of the worst teams in the majors. Those teams entered Saturday with a combined eight wins and ranked in the bottom six in the majors in OPS.

Are the Phillies’ starters this good or are they feasting on poor lineups?

“I think it has much more to do with our pitchers executing their pitches,” Kapler said. “Our guys have the kind of stuff that will match up well against anybody in baseball. So I would lean toward our guys just have natural stuff and ability and the ability to execute.”

Rookies J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery both had a big night. Kingery had a pair of RBI doubles and Crawford stroked an RBI double and a booming solo homer to right. Both of Crawford’s hits came on two-strike sliders against Archer, whose ERA after four starts is 7.84. There's nothing sweet smelling about that.

Phillies' bats explode in Tampa for 5th straight win

Phillies' bats explode in Tampa for 5th straight win

BOX SCORE

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Phillies’ winning streak stands at five and they are poised for a second straight series sweep.

The Phils, on the strength of a six-run second inning, rolled over the Tampa Bay Rays, 9-4, at Tropicana Field on Saturday night.

Jake Arrieta was the beneficiary of all that run support and earned his first win with the Phillies. He pitched 6 2/3 innings and gave up seven hits and three runs in his second start with his new club. One of the runs was unearned. The right-hander walked two, struck out one and finished with 88 pitches. Arrieta was particularly economical in the first two innings, throwing just eight pitches in each.

Phillies starting pitchers have recorded a stingy 2.69 ERA over the last 10 games.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer was anything but economical early in the game. He needed 55 pitches to get through the first two innings. Archer was ambushed for six runs in the inning and eight in all during four innings of work. He is 0-2 with a 7.84 ERA after four starts this season.

J.P. Crawford was particularly tough on Archer. Hitting in the No. 9 spot, Crawford stroked an RBI double in the second inning and a leadoff homer in the fourth against Archer. The double came on a 2-2 slider; the homer on a 1-2 slider. Archer, obviously, thought he could put away Crawford with that pitch but the rookie shortstop thwarted that idea.

The Phils sent 10 men to the plate in the second inning. Crawford, Nick Williams and Scott Kingery all had doubles in the inning. Crawford’s and Kingery’s drove in runs. Cesar Hernandez, Carlos Santana and Odubel Herrera all drove in runs with singles in the inning. Kingery added a second RBI double in the fifth inning.

The Phillies are 8-5. They have won seven of their last eight games against Miami, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay, three of the worst teams in baseball. Those three clubs entered play Saturday with a combined eight wins and rank in the bottom six in the majors in OPS.

But the Phillies are doing what you're supposed to do to bad teams — beat them.

Some notes:

• Right-handed reliever Victor Arano struck out three of the four batters he faced. He has retired all 16 batters he has faced this season, half on strikeouts.

• Catcher Andrew Knapp, out of the lineup since Tuesday because of a stomach bug, is expected to start Sunday’s series finale. Ben Lively will start for the Phillies.

• Reliever Tommy Hunter, on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, pitched an inning in an extended spring training game Saturday morning in Clearwater. He believes he is ready to go. The team is expected to err on the side of caution and give him one more tune-up before activating him next week.

• Jerad Eickhoff, on the DL with a lat strain, threw lightly off a bullpen mound. He said he feels much better. He needs a full build-up and won’t ready until sometime in May.

Jake Arrieta's expectations for his 2nd start

Jake Arrieta's expectations for his 2nd start

Though his Phillies debut lasted all of four innings, it went mostly according to plan for Jake Arrieta.

Arrieta and manager Gabe Kapler had settled on a pitch count of about 75 for Sunday against the Marlins and Arrieta ended with 74 pitches over four innings. 

Entering the fourth, he was at 64 pitches and knew he didn't have many left to play with.

"After the third, I knew I was working with about 10 pitches and I told Kap, 'I'll get through it in 10 pitches or less,'" Arrieta said.

Jake-stradamus over here. He needed exactly 10 pitches to get through a 1-2-3 fourth inning and finish his day by retiring 10 of the last 11 batters he faced, five via strikeout (see Arrieta observations).

In his next start — slated for next Saturday at Tampa Bay — Arrieta expects to throw 85 to 90 pitches. 

"Just based on what you saw with Vince (Velasquez's) pitch count, I think he was in the 90s in his second start," Arrieta said. "It's kind of the natural progression, being delayed (in spring training) a little bit. Anywhere from 85 to 90 would be pretty ideal next time out."

Next time out, Arrieta is focused on finding his rhythm earlier. He threw 32 pitches and allowed all three of his runs in a stressful (and unlucky) first inning. Some of the damage was self-inflicted. Arrieta missed a spot in serving up a home run to Miguel Rojas, then yanked some sinkers low-and-away to walk the typically undisciplined Starlin Castro. 

Why was he unlucky? Because a would-be Justin Bour double-play ball was instead an infield hit because of the shift. Two batters later, Andrew Knapp was called for catcher's interference on a 2-2, two-out count to overmatched Lewis Brinson. The Marlins' rally culminated in a lucky duck-snort over third base that plated two runs in an eventual 6-3 Phils loss.

"Erratic in the first, obviously. Was just maybe a little too giddy," he said.

First-inning struggles are a common theme among elite starting pitchers throughout baseball history. Get them early or don't get them at all, is how the saying goes.

Yet Arrieta, from 2014 to 2016, was utterly dominant in the first inning of games. He held his opponents to a .178 batting average and had a sparkling 2.02 ERA.

Last season, that changed. He had a 5.10 ERA and .291 opponents' batting average in the first inning, his highest marks for any inning.

"Today, I had a couple three-ball counts in the first inning and that's obviously something you're trying to avoid to set the tone and also keep the pitch count down," Arrieta said. "Moving forward, you want to put up a goose-egg in the first to set the tone for the ballclub. That's something I definitely look forward to working on."