Phillies

Jake Arrieta 'taking the lead' of Phillies' rotation, imparting some wisdom to Nick Pivetta

Jake Arrieta 'taking the lead' of Phillies' rotation, imparting some wisdom to Nick Pivetta

This is the guy the Phillies paid $75 million for.

Jake Arrieta has been awesome in his first four starts, resembling more of the pitcher from 2014-16 than the last two seasons. Again on Wednesday afternoon, he kept the ball low, generating groundball after groundball, tapper after tapper in the Phillies' 3-2 win.

He allowed six hits over eight innings and four were infield hits. He ended three innings — the third, seventh and eighth — with double-play balls. 

He faced 29 batters and only six sent the ball past the infield.

Through four starts, Arrieta is 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA. He has four straight quality starts, a longer streak than he had at any point in 2018. And the Phillies have needed every bit of it. In their other 13 games, their starting pitchers have just three quality starts.

It's definitely the most locked-in he's been as a Phillie.

"When I'm right, you're going to see a lot of balls on the ground. The timing of my delivery right now is really good," Arrieta said. "I just look forward to continuing to keep that where it is and still want to make some progress with a couple of my off-speed pitches, but the changeup's been great. It's a pitch for me where I know I can get swings and misses and weak contact so I'm going to keep throwing that quite a bit and get the cutter sharpened up."

It's early, but this changeup could take Arrieta to a higher level. Lefties hit .281 against him last season compared to .156 entering Wednesday. The pitch has enough movement, laterally and vertically, right now for him to use it against hitters from both sides.

In his last start, he threw 20 changeups and 17 were strikes. Wednesday afternoon, he threw 21 changeups and while two went for hits, one was a double-play ball and two more were swinging strikeouts.

"It was one of the top two or three performances I've seen from Arrieta since he's been a Phillie," manager Gabe Kapler said. "It was really impressive. It certainly seems like he's taken the reins and taking the lead for our pitching staff right now."

Despite inconsistent starting pitching, the Phillies are 11-6, a pace of 104 wins. They've gone 4-1-1 in six series. They'll need other starting pitchers to step up throughout the season, and they'll definitely need Aaron Nola to find his release point and command, but right now Arrieta is softening the struggles of a few of his rotation-mates.

Arrieta is also well-qualified to discuss what Nick Pivetta is going through. Pivetta was sent down to Triple A on Wednesday morning after a miserable first four starts. When GM Matt Klentak spoke about the move, he referenced Victor Arano and Hector Neris as recent examples of pitchers going down to the minors, finding their command and confidence and returning to have success. Klentak also mentioned Roy Halladay, who had the early-career issues before becoming the best pitcher in baseball. Halladay's name wasn't used to argue that Pivetta could someday be the best of the best, but instead to remind folks that even the most talented arms go through rough periods.

Another example Klentak could have cited was Arrieta himself. Arrieta was a touted prospect coming through the Orioles' farm system a decade ago, and after a few unsuccessful years in Baltimore, he became an ace in Chicago.

The Phillies' young starting pitchers take a lot of their cues from the 33-year-old Arrieta, who spoke with Pivetta after the somewhat surprising roster move.

"I talked with him, yeah. The situation he's in right now is one that I'm very familiar with," Arrieta said. "In 2012 and 2013, I went through very similar experiences. This is a moment for him to kind of get away, put his head down and get back to work. I just tried to reiterate to him that the guy he was in spring training is the guy who he really is. 

"He just needs to be a little bit more on the attack with the type of stuff that he has. You pick five to 10 guys with the best stuff in baseball and he's in that group. He just needs to refine some things, make sure his head's in a good space and get back to work because he's gonna be here. He's gonna be a big part of our team this season. This is just a moment for him to kind of get away for a little while, get his stuff right and get back here pretty soon."

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Ray of light

The Phillies are again showing interest in Robbie Ray, according to Jon Morosi. We have mentioned Ray frequently here as a Phillies trade target dating back to last summer.

Ray would help any contender. He’s a 27-year-old lefty with an extremely high strikeout rate. He experiences bouts of wildness and does lead the National League with 56 walks, but he has also settled in to a mid-3.00s ERA the last three seasons.

The left-handedness and legit swing-and-miss stuff make Ray the type of pitcher the Phillies do not have.

Ray turns 28 on Oct. 1. Based on his age and remaining contract — 2020 is his final arbitration year before he becomes a free agent — he would be a great fit for the Phillies, even if they do continue to fall out of the playoff race. Ray would help them now and next season and would be a prime extension candidate if he pitches well.

The competition for his services via trade will be intense. The Astros (more on them below) are also in on Ray, and plenty of other clubs have expressed interest in the past. The Phillies would have to trade a player or two they don’t want to trade to acquire him.

Speedsters available

The Royals have made lightning-fast outfielders Billy Hamilton and Terrance Gore available. Neither is much of a fit for the Phillies, who already have Roman Quinn in that role.

Hamilton and Gore could both help a contender in need of a late-inning defensive replacement/pinch-runner. They are both impactful defenders and baserunners who can't hit.

As for Whit Merrifield, it seems unlikely Kansas City would move him despite being 30 games under .500. Merrifield is such a good, multi-dimensional player that the Royals deserve a huge score for him. At 30 years old, he is enjoying by far his best season, hitting .309/.361/.500 with 26 doubles, eight triples, 11 homers, 45 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Merrifield's .861 OPS is 55 points higher than his previous career-high.

Merrifield's dynamic offense and positional versatility make him a fit anywhere. The Cubs would make a ton of sense. 

Astros after a starter?

The Astros have gotten huge production from their top three starters, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley. But the back of the rotation remains a question mark. Collin McHugh is pitching in a mop-up role, Brad Peacock is dealing with a sore shoulder, Framber Valdez has been lit up three starts in a row, and Corbin Martin underwent Tommy John surgery the first week of July.

The Astros are still maybe the deepest team in baseball. Anything less than a World Series win would represent disappointment in 2019. Madison Bumgarner would make a whole lot of sense for Houston, which is still rich in prospects after all of their graduations to the majors.

Trade season begins

A pair of solid but unspectacular starting pitchers were moved this past weekend to kick off trade deadline activity.

Remember, these next two weeks figure to be even more frenzied than usual in July because there is now a hard trade deadline of July 31. No more August trades, except those involving a swap of minor-leaguers.

The Orioles sent Andrew Cashner to the Red Sox for a pair of 17-year-old position player prospects who had been playing for Boston's Dominican Summer League team. 

The soon-to-be 33-year-old Cashner went 9-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 17 starts with the Orioles. Baltimore went 11-6 in his starts and 17-59 in all other games.

The Red Sox needed another starting pitcher with the Nate Eovaldi experiment going sideways. Eovaldi has missed much of the season and will shift to the bullpen upon his return later this month. 

As of Monday afternoon, the Red Sox were 2½ games out of the second AL wild-card spot.

The Royals, meanwhile, traded Homer Bailey to the A's for a fringy Double A infielder. Bailey has been just OK this season, with a 4.80 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. 

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Watch the video above for comments from Phillies decision-makers and players.

Should they buy? Should they sell? These four tough games against the Dodgers could provide some more clarity. Another ugly series loss could be the determining factor.

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