Jake Arrieta made his 45th start with the Phillies on Tuesday night. It might have been his most important and here’s why:
The veteran right-hander had pitched poorly in his previous two starts, both losses in California on the team’s last road trip. He gave up 10 runs in 9 2/3 innings in those two losses and was tagged for a whopping 17 hits, including five homers.
And that brings us to Tuesday night and Arrieta’s start against the Arizona Diamondbacks. One night earlier, the D-backs had crushed Phillies pitching for eight homers and 13 runs. So this didn’t figure to be a good matchup for the Phillies — a struggling Arrieta, his sinker recently missing up in the zone and screaming, “Hit me!” against a thunderous lineup like Arizona’s. What’s more, a loss could cost the Phillies their share of first place in the NL East. Yeah, it’s only June 11, way too early to panic, but tumbling out of first place after living there since April 26 would have been a blow to the Phillies, even if only symbolically.
So this was all a little gut check for Arrieta.
And he delivered.
He wasn’t the star of the game.
He didn’t pitch his best game.
Far from it.
But he delivered. Six innings. Three runs.
And the Phillies stopped a two-game losing skid with a 7-4 victory (see observations). They awakened Wednesday still in first place with a chance to win a series.
“One of the best assets you can have in this game is a short memory,” Arrieta said. “You have a tough loss like we had last night, set a record for homers combined. It was a tough one but we have the ability here, collectively as a team, to show up on any given day and win a game regardless of what happened the night before.
“I just wanted to be efficient down in the zone and if I missed, missing down is ideal. If you miss over the heart of the plate, elevated, with fastballs against a team like this they’re going to find the seats so that was definitely in the back of my mind.”
Arrieta continued to struggle with walks. He issued four of them and gave up six hits for 10 base runners. But he limited damage. He was clutch in the sixth when he protected a three-run lead by getting the last two outs of the frame with two runners on base. Manager Gabe Kapler considered going to the bullpen in that situation, but decided to stick with Arrieta with the game possibly on the line.
“We knew we had J.D. Hammer out there,” Kapler said. “He might be a guy who could get a strikeout for us. And we all kept thinking to ourselves, 'Jake's probably the best option for the next couple of hitters.' Just because he's so poised. He was determined to get through that inning and give us a chance to win.”
That’s what starting pitching is all about: Giving your team a chance to win. Keeping your team in the game so the bats have a chance.
The Phils’ bats produced a dozen hits, including a three-run homer by Scott Kingery. That’s three homers in two games for the Phoenix native against his hometown team. Jay Bruce and Bryce Harper also had important run-scoring hits.
“There's an extra edge going against your hometown team,” Kingery said. “I grew up watching them play and it's fun to hit some home runs to beat them."
Kapler did a little gushing about Kingery, who is hitting .324 with 7 homers and a .995 OPS in 108 at-bats.
“The development of Scott Kingery and how far he’s come in the last calendar year … I just think it's worth noting that he's been sensational for us so far this year,” Kapler said.
You know who else has been sensational? Hector Neris. He capped off a good night’s work by the bullpen — one run in three innings — by racking up his 14th save in as many chances.
“It's worth noting that Hector has also been off-the-charts good for a calendar year,” Kapler said. “I know that the All-Star voting has begun. I know that this is a bit out of the fans' control, but Hector Neris is deserving of that kind of nod in my opinion.”
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