Finally healthy, Jake Arrieta looks to be impact arm Phillies expected when they signed him

Finally healthy, Jake Arrieta looks to be impact arm Phillies expected when they signed him

CLEARWATER, Fla. — It took all of four throws during Wednesday’s first official workout for Phillies pitchers and catchers to know that Jake Arrieta’s elbow wasn’t hurting anymore.


Pitchers and catchers took the field around 11 a.m. and started playing catch. Arrieta paired up with Vince Velasquez.

First toss, nice and easy.

Second toss, nice and easy.

Third toss, nice and easy.

Fourth toss, pffffft!

A dart.

And then another one.

And another one ...

They weren't thrown from a mound and they weren't thrown in a competitive environment with a hitter at the plate. But the ball continually came out of Arrieta’s hand smoothly, almost effortlessly, and it had life as it branded Velasquez’ glove with a loud thwack!

Truer tests will come over the next six weeks of spring training and beyond.

But on Day 1 — and after a season of not being able to let the ball go without feeling a grabbing sensation in his elbow – this was pretty good look from Arrieta.

“Well, I'm 100 percent healthy, so that's nice,” the soon-to-be 34-year-old right-hander said. “Injuries are frustrating.”

Arrieta signed a three-year, $75 million deal with the Phillies two springs ago. In two seasons with the club, he is 18-19 with a 4.26 ERA in 55 starts. The Phillies believed they would get more for their money than that, but, as Arrieta said, injuries are frustrating. He pitched through knee soreness that resulted in a surgical cleanup after the 2018 season and had to shut down in mid-August of last season to have a loose body and a bone spur surgically cleaned out of his elbow.

“I was able to have a normal off-season,” Arrieta said. “My throwing progression has been great and has continued to be really good and won't miss a beat. Yeah, I feel great.”

The elbow issues last year prevented Arrieta from getting full extension when he released the ball and that affected location and movement on his pitches. It also prevented him from torqueing his breaking stuff.

“I couldn't use two of my weapons,” he said. “I really didn't use the curveball as well as I could have because of the elbow. Any time I oriented my hand in that position with the cutter, the curveball, it shortened my outing even more because of the swelling and the pain in the elbow. When you go out there with just a fastball and a changeup -- and the changeup's really not even that good at the time -- it's hard to get outs. It's hard to pitch two times through the order and three times through the order was almost undoable. But not having that issue anymore and being able to feel free and easy and not be restricted with my elbow is going to be really good for me.”

Good health has Arrieta motivated to have a strong season. And there’s also the added incentive of pitching for his next contract. He will be a free agent at season’s end.

“I’m doing everything I can to control the way I prepare and take care of myself to the best of my ability,” he said. “If I’m able to do that and stay healthy, the performances will be good.”

Pitching will decide how far this team goes. So the Phillies need a good season from Arrieta and the rest of the starting staff that includes Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin and either Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta. The Phils also need good health in the rotation because there is not much depth. As things stand, Cole Irvin and possibly Ranger Suarez are starting pitching depth. Prospect Spencer Howard is ticketed to open at Triple A – with a season innings limit that will factor into his timetable for arriving in the majors.

“Spencer has an innings limit so we have to think about this because we believe at some point he’s going to play a role for us,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We can’t go wear him out by June so we have to think about that.”

With good health, Arrieta believes the Phillies’ rotation can succeed in an NL East that features some outstanding rotations.

“I’m not really worried about other rotations,” Arrieta said. “I like what we have. Obviously getting to be a teammate with a guy like Nola for the last couple of years and seeing how he works and how much he really puts into his craft; I don’t know if there is a better prepared guy out there. I just love watching him go about his business and prepare for each start in his own way.

"Watching the transformation and the continued growth of guys like Eflin and Vinny and Pivetta, these guys are going to continue to take steps forward. Bringing Wheeler into the mix -- from afar I’ve seen him be really, really good. He has had ups and downs just like all of us have had. I look forward to watching him take another step forward and I look forward to getting to know him a little bit better and see what he’s like as a person.”

All the Phillies pitchers will be working with a new pitching coach in Bryan Price. The organization is counting on him to oversee improvement in the staff. It’s pretty much imperative if this team is going to contend.

And can the Phillies contend?

“Yes,” Arrieta said.

“I believed it the last two years, too. We’ve had great teams, but one team wins it. One out of thirty. Everybody has high expectations and everybody wants to make the playoffs and win the World Series, but over the course of a season you go through a lot of ups and downs and injuries and underperforming and sometimes you get flat-out beat by the other side. It is what it is.

“This year, I believe will be different. Everybody in here does. We’ve got a more veteran presence in here than we’ve had, which is nice, and some really good athletes and players. But we’ll see. I can’t predict the future. I just know the group that we have here is capable of getting the job done.”

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Revelations and takeaways from the Roy Halladay E60 documentary

Revelations and takeaways from the Roy Halladay E60 documentary

There was so much of note in Friday's powerful hourlong E60 documentary of the life and death of Roy Halladay. Heartbreaking recollections from his widow, Brandy, troubling details of his addiction to prescription opioids, and the valuable lesson that hopefully can come from such a painful tragedy.

"I just wanted him to slow down," Brandy said.

"Roy had none," she said of the balance in his life at points.

"He didn't feel he had the luxury of making mistakes, he was truly tormented."

How Halladay's opioid addiction began

Halladay popped his back during the 2011 season and pitched through it. He pitched through pain the night the Phillies' playoff hopes ended in a gut-wrenching 1-0 loss to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS after a franchise-record 102 regular-season wins.

Brandy told a story of Roy experiencing such back pain that he once fell down sneezing around that time.

Halladay began taking prescription opioids in the spring of 2012, obtaining them by paying cash to a doctor in Florida who was recommended to him by a Phillies teammate.

"He was continuing to hurt himself, and the more he hurt himself, the more dependent he would be on medication," Brandy said. "He was breaking his back. He actually shrunk three inches from compression in his spine. That's insane."

Former teammate and pupil Kyle Kendrick, who looked up to Halladay as a role model and mentor, noticed that something wasn't right. 

"At his locker, I was right next to him. You'd try to talk to him and you'd feel like he wasn't there," Kendrick said. "As a friend, I felt like I should say something. I felt like he might need help. A teammate and I said something to someone who worked for the team."

The teammate confronted Halladay about his drug use during the 2013 season but nothing changed.

Fear of public scrutiny

Halladay's body became dependent on the medications to function. All the while, he privately dealt with the fear of others finding out. He was tormented by the potential public scrutiny.

"Everybody should be able to ask for help and they shouldn't be looked down on and judged for that," Brandy said several times throughout the documentary. If there is one lesson to be learned from this tragedy, it is that.

Roy Halladay went to rehab for his painkiller addiction during the 2013 season, his final year in the majors. Many Phillies fans will remember the stress-filled, sweat-soaked 13 starts Halladay made that final year. At times, that was a reaction to the medication in his system.

He left rehab early, Brandy said, because he had been recognized and someone had snuck a phone into the facility. Roy was nervous about word of his stint in rehab leaking out.

The struggle to find a purpose

After retirement, in the years before Halladay recaptured some of his joy and passion by coaching his sons' baseball teams, Roy "stopped taking care of himself, inside and out," according to Brandy. His weight rose to over 300 pounds at one point in retirement, then down to 205 at another.

He reentered rehab in January 2015 for the painkiller addiction and was there three months. When he returned home, he began seeing a psychiatrist and was formally diagnosed with ADD, depression and anxiety. 

In retirement, Halladay struggled to find a purpose. 

"He was lost, he didn't know what to do with himself," Brandy said. "Flying was therapeutic."

Doc's days in the air

The circumstances of Halladay's death were documented in a 2018 toxicology report and in a report from the National Transportation Safety Board last month. He had Zolpidem, amphetamine and morphine in his system at the time he crashed his Icon A5 plane into the Gulf of Mexico. According to the NTSB report, Halladay was doing extreme acrobatics when he lost control.

Halladay received his pilot's license in 2013. He had spent much time in the air with his father, Roy II, a pilot, from a young age, and had accrued more than 700 flying hours himself before the crash.

"He was an excellent pilot," Roy II said of his son. "Mechanically, his skills were very good. He kept working for additional ratings."

Yet still, Brandy didn't feel it was totally safe. 

"He was trying to fill this void by buying boats and planes and cars and shoes," she said. "Roy was an adrenaline guy, he was always looking for that rush."

When Roy got his Icon A5, a plane that made him feel like he was flying a fighter jet, "he was so excited, he couldn't control himself," Brandy said.

"My concern was after he got the (Icon A5), he kept talking about how sporty it was, how much of a sports car it was," his father said. "I said be careful with it."

The tragedy

Halladay died 35 days after getting the Icon A5. According to the NTSB report, he frequently flew at low altitudes in shallow water and flew underneath a bridge in Tampa with Brandy on board 12 days before the fatal crash.

On the day of the crash, he and Brandy were supposed to see one of their sons' band perform at a school concert. Roy told Brandy he'd return the Icon A5 to the airport and meet her there. He texted her while she was driving, "I'm so sorry, I should have just gone with you, another wasted day." Instead of flying north to the airport, he had flown west to the Gulf of Mexico where the crash occurred.

"I had so much more in the future I wanted for us and it was hard to know that it was just done," Brandy Halladay said.

"I know in my heart it was an accident. I want to make sure that people understand that he was just a man. Perfect, I hate that word, perfect. I just want him to be Roy. I hope somebody hears our story and says, 'Wow, I'm going to ask for help.'"

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Phillies Talk podcast: Still optimistic about July 4? Thoughts on Roy Halladay

Phillies Talk podcast: Still optimistic about July 4? Thoughts on Roy Halladay

On the latest Phillies Talk podcast, the guys explored whether an early-July start date could still be achievable for MLB, and their Roy Halladay memories on the 10-year anniversary of his perfect game.

• Is a July 4 start date possible at this point with no resolution in sight?

• Deadlines help, but would a deadline be artificial?

• Challenging the idea that fans would never come back if baseball went away in 2020.

• Benefits and hindrances of extending the season from 82 games to 100-110.

• The opposing perspective from the night Halladay threw his perfect game.

• Doc's legendary 2010 season even aside from that perfecto.

• A preview of the exciting 2008 Phillies playoff re-airs and specials on tap.

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