Jake Arrieta's three-year run with the Phillies will end in a few months, but he still has a chance to make up for lost time and underwhelming performance. So far in 2020, he's on the right track.
Arrieta made one of his best starts in a Phillies uniform Saturday night, pitching six scoreless innings with six strikeouts against the Braves. His sinker sat 93-94 mph and was dancing. Everything else played off of it. The Braves went 1 for 9 in at-bats ending in Arrieta's cutter, curveball and changeup.
With Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler atop the rotation and the promise of newcomer Spencer Howard, a healthy and effective Arrieta could truly solidify the staff. Perhaps even turn it into one of the better rotations in the National League.
"I thought he threw the crap out of it," Bryce Harper said after Arrieta's win Saturday night. "I mean, his backdoor sinker, I haven't seen 93 (mph) from him in a couple years. If he's throwing that backdoor sinker and he's throwing off that with the cutter, he's very tough. I think when he was really, really good, especially in 2015, he was doing that. He was coming inside a little bit, but also getting under the hands. He's just throwing really well right now. He's healthy. That's the biggest thing."
Arrieta had a 2.73 ERA in 128 starts with the Cubs. When he found his most success, the sinker was the main source. Against the Braves, Arrieta froze hitters for called strike threes on sinkers that broke back over the plate late, and he was also able to throw that sinker inside in mostly unhittable zones to righties.
He didn't have that kind of command in 2019, when he spent most of the season pitching through elbow and knee injuries that significantly affected the feel, movement and location of his pitches. Arrieta could have just gone away and rehabbed last summer. Instead, he toughed it out because the Phillies' pitching staff was so bad that even Arrieta at 60% was better than most of the alternatives.
Usually, Philly loves an athlete who plays through pain. But Arrieta was not well-received last season because of the lack of production relative to expectations, and also because of a few instances in which he was brutally honest after games when asked about teammates' miscues or coaching strategies.
Had he produced, perhaps the fanbase would have interpreted those comments about infield shifts or needing more from teammates as refreshing authenticity. As baseball has shown us for over 100 years, perception is based on production.
"I have more weapons at my disposal than I’ve had the last couple years," Arrieta said. "I feel like I’m gonna be able to maintain the feel of my stuff deeper into games.
"Now I have the ability to throw my breaking balls with more effect. Everything's coming out of my hand a little bit more crisp, especially the command glove-side and being able to move the sinker in — especially right-handed hitters — at will. That ability is there, so I have more weapons at my disposal that I didn't necessarily have in the last year or two. So, you know, that's a good sign for us."
Arrieta's next start should be Thursday against the Orioles, the team that drafted him in the fifth round in 2007. He figures to make about 10 more starts in the regular season. So far, he has a 2.45 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with 10 strikeouts and one walk.
"It's difficult to pitch when you have a knee problem, an elbow problem, any problem. And what I've seen in the first two starts has been extremely impressive," manager Joe Girardi said. "It's really encouraging.
"It's the late movement. He has the ability to bring that sinker back on right-handers. Start it over the outside corner and bring it back. I just think he's got such late movement and really knows how to pitch. If he feels good, I feel really good about what he's going to do."
More on the Phillies