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."