CLEARWATER, Fla. — Jake Arrieta has an explanation for his struggles late last season.
A cartilage injury in his left knee.
“I originally tore it sometime in June, I believe, maybe a little bit before that,” Arrieta revealed Thursday.
The right-hander kept the issue quiet and pitched through it, but his performance suffered down the stretch. He went 1-5 with a 6.35 ERA over his final nine starts.
The issue cropped up again during offseason workouts at home in Texas and this time Arrieta spoke up. He flew to Philadelphia in January, had an MRI and a surgical procedure to clean up the tear.
It was good that Arrieta suffered the flareup when he did. He has plenty of time to recover and be ready to start the season on time. In fact, he’s already thrown from a bullpen mound. Pain-free.
“I have zero concerns about Jake Arrieta,” general manager Matt Klentak said.
Though he prefers his players to speak up when they don't feel right, manager Gabe Kapler was not surprised that Arrieta continued to pitch with pain in his knee last season.
“Jake’s a tough individual so he’s not the kind of guy who’s going to let on that something’s bugging him because there’s a lot of pride there,” Kapler said.
Arrieta, who turns 33 in March, is an interesting guy in this camp, a very important member of the pitching staff as he enters the second season of a three-year, $75 million contract, and a bit of a case study for the direction free agency is going these days.
A year ago, he was at home, working out by himself. He had entered the offseason seeking deals of up to seven years. The Phillies weren’t about to visit that neighborhood. They made a three-year offer and waited and waited — and eventually, Arrieta took it in mid-March.
Now, the Phillies are traveling the same road with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.
“I was in that same boat,” Arrieta said. “From the outside looking in, from the fan perspective, people think we're not just signing, or guys are turning deals down. The truth is, the right deal for those guys might not be there. They want to be here. They want to be in camp with their teammates. That was the hardest part for me, not being in Clearwater with these guys for the first three weeks — not getting to develop those relationships, get to know the catchers, the coaching staff. That's tough.
“Manny and Bryce aren't the only two out there right now. Those guys, I promise you, want to be in a camp with a team today if that is a possibility. It's tough on them and their families to not have a team to be with. Even though those guys are going to get taken care of financially, it's still tough on them not being in a clubhouse and getting to cultivate those relationships that are so important for everyone on the team.”
Teams are trying (and succeeding) to take back the hammer from the players in free agency and the players’ union might not be able to counterpunch until the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season.
“Absolutely,” said Arrieta when asked if the strength of the union was being tested. “We have two or three more years under the current bargaining agreement, so it's going to be tough. Last thing anyone wants to see is a strike. But we have to find a way to unite on both sides and make this work. We have to come together as a union to see if we can figure out a way to come to some agreement with the league on a better way to navigate the free-agent market. Some things need to change.”
Arrieta was a teammate of Machado in Baltimore and he shares an agent (Scott Boras) with Harper. Despite these connections, he professed to have no inside information on which player the Phillies might land.
“But I could definitely see at least one of those guys here,” he said.
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