Phillies

Jake Arrieta hasn't been bad but hasn't been worth the money either

Jake Arrieta hasn't been bad but hasn't been worth the money either

Jake Arrieta's performance this season hasn't overwhelmed or underwhelmed. It's just kind of ... whelmed.

Typically, when a player is awarded a contract paying $25 million per year, reactions from the fan base are strong in either direction, the way they've been with Carlos Santana.

But you don't see quite as much noise with Arrieta. Not as many fans are quick to deride his season or talk about how impressive he's been.

Arrieta did not pitch well or poorly Tuesday night in Game 2 of the Phillies' doubleheader against the Nationals. Again, he was just OK. Juan Soto doubled and homered off him, driving in three runs in the first four innings of what was eventually an excruciating 7-6 loss.

Because the Phils again had trouble scoring early, Gabe Kapler was forced to pinch-hit for Arrieta with Justin Bour with runners on second and third and one out in the bottom of the fifth. Bour fouled out on one pitch, but the Phillies ended up scoring five times in the inning.

Up and down

Through 28 starts, Arrieta is 10-9 with a 3.66 ERA. If it seems like his ERA should be higher, it's because you've also watched him allow 17 unearned runs.

September will go a long way in determining how Arrieta's 2018 season is viewed. Why? Because he's had three good months and two bad months. If that becomes three and three, it's a disappointment. If it becomes four good, two bad, it's easier to live with.

Here are Arrieta's ERAs by month:

April: 3.49

May: 0.90

June: 6.66

July: 2.80

August: 4.50

September: 5.11 (two starts)

Arrieta has obviously been the Phillies' second-most reliable starter this season. And in three combined starts against the two teams the Phillies have struggled most against — the Braves and Mets — he's allowed one run in 20 innings. 

Bad vs. bad teams

Arrieta hasn't been able to conquer the Marlins, who he'll face again this weekend after posting a 4.91 ERA in four meetings.

He also struggled twice against the Padres, allowing 10 runs in 8⅓ innings to one of the majors' weakest offenses. 

The Phillies went 3-3 in Arrieta's six starts against the Marlins and Padres. In that aspect, he's fallen short of expectations. Those are six games a contending team has no business splitting.

Warning signs

Arrieta had trouble locating on Tuesday night. At one point he had thrown just half of his 42 pitches for strikes. Because he has a crossfire delivery and is prone to yanking his sinker out of the strike zone when he's not locked in, these kinds of nights will happen.

It's something the Phillies have to be concerned with moving forward. While Arrieta's struck out 18 over his last two starts, his strikeout-to-walk ratio has declined each of the last four seasons. With 127 Ks and 52 walks, Arrieta is just above 2-to-1. 

Just two seasons ago, he had 190 punchouts.

In the early part of the season, Arrieta got away with low strikeout totals because he was generating so many groundball double plays — 15 in his first 13 starts. Over his last 15 starts, he's induced just seven.

Maybe Arrieta comes back next season and performs like a No. 2 starter with an ERA closer to 3.00. But there are more than a few reasons to be concerned. His ERA has gotten worse every year since 2015. So has his WHIP. So has his opponents' batting average. So has his rate of soft contact allowed.

It's all about perspective, though. Arrieta hasn't performed like a $25 million man, yet at the same time, Cubs fans have complained all season about their team's choice to pay Yu Darvish instead of him. The free-agent market for starting pitchers this past offseason was not strong. This winter could be another story, with intriguing available lefties Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel and J.A. Happ.

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Phillies add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Phillies add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Three weeks before the start of spring training, the Phillies were busy Wednesday finalizing minor-league contracts with three pitchers and a utility infielder.

The team announced the signings of veteran relievers Drew Storen, Bud Norris and Francisco Liriano, as well as veteran infielder Neil Walker.

Of the group, Liriano, 36, might have the best chance to impact the 2020 Phillies. The left-hander, a starter for the bulk of his major-league career, was used exclusively as a reliever with Pittsburgh last season. He pitched in 69 games and recorded an ERA of 3.47 over 70 innings. Liriano was particularly effective against lefty hitters, holding them to a .194 batting average (14 for 72.)

Storen, 32, and Norris, 34, are both right-handers with significant big-league time. Neither pitched in the majors last season because of health reasons. Storen was recovering from Tommy John surgery and Norris had a forearm injury. There are opportunities in the Phillies’ bullpen and both will be given a look in spring training.

Walker, 34, is an 11-year veteran who has spent much of his career as a regular second baseman, mostly with Pittsburgh. He has bounced around the diamond in recent seasons, particularly with the New York Yankees in 2018, where he played first base, second base, third base and both corner outfield spots. He played first, second and third with the Miami Marlins last season and hit .261 with eight homers and 38 RBIs in 337 at-bats.

Walker, a switch-hitter, will vie for a spot as a reserve with the Phillies. Rosters expand from 25 to 26 men this season and that will allow the Phillies to carry an extra player on their bench. There are plenty of candidates for that job. Earlier this winter, the Phillies signed veteran infielders Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin and Ronald Torreyes to minor-league deals. The team is also bringing veteran outfielders Matt Szczur and Mikie Mahtook to big-league camp on minor-league deals. The competition for a spot as a reserve outfielder will also include Nick Williams and Nick Martini, both of whom are on the 40-man roster.

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Phillies agree to deal with Francisco Liriano

Phillies agree to deal with Francisco Liriano

After months of inactivity in the bullpen, the Phillies have added three relievers in two days. The latest signing is of left-hander Francisco Liriano. It's a minor-league deal in which Liriano will earn $1.5 million if he makes the team, with up to $1.25 million in incentives, according to Robert Murray.

Liriano is better than the pair of pitchers the Phillies agreed to minor-league deals with earlier this week: Drew Storen and Bud Norris. Those two didn't pitch at all in the majors in 2019.

Liriano, though, was effective in 2019. He had a 3.47 ERA in 69 appearances with the Pirates. Control has always been an issue dating back to his early days with the Twins, whether Liriano has been a starter or reliever. He has walked 4.9 batters per nine innings over the last three seasons.

Still, Liriano has the potential to be a solid left-handed weapon in the Phils' 'pen, and perhaps a spot starter in a pinch. Lefties were just 29 for 160 (.181) against Liriano the last two seasons.

If he makes the team, it would give the Phillies three left-handed relief options in Liriano, Adam Morgan and Jose Alvarez. Morgan can face hitters from both sides but Alvarez is a lefty specialist. Alvarez, who had a 3.36 ERA in 59 innings, was one of the Phillies' unsung players in 2019.

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