Phillies

Jake Arrieta looks like a $75 million man in domination of Pirates

Jake Arrieta looks like a $75 million man in domination of Pirates

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Jorge Alfaro looked and sounded like a kid who had just visited an amusement park for the first time. Wide eyes. Big smile. Let’s-do-it-again amazement in his voice.

“That was fun,” he said. “Just put a finger down and he hit the glove.”

Alfaro, the Phillies’ 24-year-old rookie catcher, was on the receiving end of a vintage Jake Arrieta performance Thursday night. In his third start with the Phillies, Arrieta, the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner, dominated the Pittsburgh Pirates, the NL’s highest-scoring team coming in, with seven innings of one-hit, 10-strikeout ball to lead the Phillies to a 7-0 win at wintery Citizens Bank Park (see first take).

Arrieta’s fastball had sink, tail, run, whatever you want to call that Greg Madduxian downward, left-to-right darting action that makes it so tough to hit when it moves like that. He got 11 swing and misses on the pitch, 14 in all. In his previous outing Saturday at Tampa Bay, he struck out just one in 6 2/3 innings and got only four swing and misses.

Arrieta’s improvement might be as simple as this: He signed with the Phillies (for three years and $75 million) just five weeks ago. Though he’s made three starts with the Phillies, he’s really just finishing his spring training.

“I’m caught up now,” he said. “Other than being able to locate the changeup a little better, this was about as good as I’ve been.

“I knew I was going to be pretty crisp today in the bullpen when I had my sinker, glove side, going early. My timing was pretty much right where it needs to be. When I’m on time, when I get my foot down and I’m able to drive the ball downhill to my glove side, I know it’s going to be a pretty good day. Three starts in, to be able to do that as well as I did tonight is a good sign.”

Manager Gabe Kapler loved Arrieta’s sinker.

“It was moving all over the place,” he said. “Very impressive outing for him and a big emotional lift for our team.”

Arrieta came out in attack mode, striking out the first two batters of the game on fastballs that registered 94 and 93 mph, respectively. He kept on attacking after the Phils lit up Jameson Taillon for five runs in the second inning. Rhys Hoskins homered and Cesar Hernandez cleared the bases with a three-run single. Trailing runner J.P. Crawford got a great jump from first on a 3-2 pitch and followed third base coach Dusty Wathan’s wave home.

Kapler said it took “big stones,” on Wathan’s part to send Crawford and that the dugout was “fired up” after Hernandez cleared the bases.

With the way Arrieta was dealing, it was game over after that.

“Any time I get a multiple-run lead, I’m going to be aggressive,” he said.

The Phillies are 11-7 thanks largely to their starting pitchers. They’ve recorded a 2.40 ERA in their last nine starts. At home, the Phils are 6-1 and have outscored opposing clubs by 35 runs. There are nine more games to play on this homestand. It's off to a good start.

Phillies score 10 runs and win but still leave behind a sour taste

Phillies score 10 runs and win but still leave behind a sour taste

Such an enigmatic group, these Phillies.

How crazy is it that on an afternoon when the Phils scored 10 runs to finish off an unlikely series victory, the leftover taste was a sour one because of the bullpen.

Gabe Kapler tried to show confidence in Hector Neris in the ninth inning for the second straight game. It worked Saturday but not Sunday.

After needing eight pitches in a 1-2-3 save Saturday, Neris allowed four runs and two homers in two-thirds of an inning to turn a 10-5 lead into a 10-9 game (see first take)

Kapler was forced to turn to Jake Thompson, who threw one pitch to get the save.

At this point, how can Kapler go back to Neris late in a close game? He attempted to use Neris in low-leverage situations — prior to Saturday, each of his last six outings came in games well in-hand — but it hasn't worked. 

Neris has a 6.00 ERA and has allowed eight home runs in 27 innings. To put that in perspective, Aaron Nola has allowed six home runs in 95⅓ innings. 

Neris' velocity was crisp Sunday, reaching as high as 98 mph. But the location, again, was off. Too many pitches in the middle of the plate.

The Phillies have a 4.56 ERA in the ninth inning. That's fourth-worst in the majors and second-worst in the NL, ahead of only the Marlins. Remove Neris from the equation and the Phils' ninth-inning ERA is 3.52.

The Phillies' bullpen was supposed to be a strength. But Pat Neshek hasn't pitched, Neris has fallen flat, Tommy Hunter is only starting to get into a groove and Luis Garcia is on the DL after several rough outings in a row.

Kapler must be careful of overusing Seranthony Dominguez, who factors into their ninth-inning plans far beyond this year. But aside from Dominguez, the only relievers the Phillies have who've been reliable more often than not are Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano. 

It's a precarious position to be in, yet the Phils are 12-6 in one-run games this season. Only the Mariners, Yankees, Brewers and Braves have a better winning percentage in such games. 

Nick Pivetta is on the hill Monday at home against the Cardinals. The Phillies badly need a long outing from him after their starters accounted for just 57% of the innings in Milwaukee.

It would be the perfect time for Pivetta to get back on track after allowing 13 runs in his last 14 innings and failing to pitch into the sixth four starts in a row.

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Maikel Franco picks up Aaron Nola for unlikely Phillies series win

Maikel Franco picks up Aaron Nola for unlikely Phillies series win

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The Phillies didn't get the kind of start from Aaron Nola they've been accustomed to but were still able to finish off an impressive series win Sunday by beating the Brewers 10-9.

As bad as they looked Friday night, this turned out to be a strong week for the Phils, who have won four of six games and two straight series over the Rockies and Brewers. 

The Phils are 37-32 and have been at least two games over .500 every day since April 13. The Brewers still own the best record in the National League at 42-29.

After this quick trip to Milwaukee, the Phillies are back home Monday through Wednesday against the Cardinals before going to Washington for the weekend. After that, they have an eight-game homestand.

Franco connects

Maikel Franco hasn't played much lately but got the start Sunday with J.P. Crawford playing shortstop in place of Scott Kingery.

In his second at-bat against right-hander Chase Anderson, Franco connected on a hanging, middle-in curveball for a two-run homer to left field.

In the seventh inning, Franco gave the Phillies some insurance with a rare single to right-center in a high-pressure situation. Franco's line drive drove in two more runs as he completed a four-RBI day. 

In nine career games at Miller Park, Franco is 14 for 30 (.467) with four homers and 14 RBI.

He's never going to be a high-OBP guy, but Franco can still pound mistakes here and there. The Phillies think Crawford has more upside offensively and defensively, but right now, Franco is the more effective option between the two because of this ability to occasionally run into a two-run homer.

The league knows what Franco is. He's likely never going to have significant trade value because of his .298 career on-base percentage in just under 1,900 plate appearances. But he does have mid-20s home run power. He has nine this season after hitting 24 last season and 25 the year before.

Neris … not so good

Kapler turned to Hector Neris in the ninth inning for the second day in a row and this time, it didn't work.

Neris gave up four runs with the Phillies up by five and was pulled with two outs for Jake Thompson.

Neris allowed home runs to Jesus Aguilar and Eric Thames, with Thames' three-run shot coming at the literal four-hour mark of the game — 4:00:00.

This game lasted 4 hours and 3 minutes, making it the Phils' longest non-extra-inning game since July 6, 2015 at Dodger Stadium.

The Phillies' ERA in the ninth inning this season is now 4.56 — fourth-worst in the majors and second-worst in the NL ahead of only the Marlins.

Hoskins stays hot

After demolishing a 431-foot home run Saturday, Rhys Hoskins hit another two-run shot to left in his first at-bat on Father's Day.

This one wasn't hit quite as hard but was a majestic, high shot that just kept carrying and carrying.

Hoskins is seeing the ball well. In a later at-bat, he hung with a low-and-away curveball and just missed the barrel, flying out to left field.

Since fracturing his jaw, Hoskins is 11 for 30 (.367) with three doubles, four homers, 11 RBI and four walks in nine games.

Williams' decisive blow

The half-inning after Nola exited his shortest start in over a year, Nick Williams delivered the key blow for the Phillies, a two-run single up the middle with the bases loaded.

Williams has had a productive week, going 6 for 13 with two doubles, a homer, four RBI, two walks and two hit by pitches in his last five games.

Up next

Pitching matchups for the Cardinals series:

Monday: Nick Pivetta (4-6, 4.25) vs. Miles Mikolas (7-2, 2.43)

Tuesday: Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.74) vs. Luke Weaver (3-6, 4.52)

Wednesday: Jake Arrieta (5-5, 3.33) vs. Michael Wacha (8-2, 3.24)

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