Phillies

A June to forget for Jake Arrieta and the (lack of) defense behind him

A June to forget for Jake Arrieta and the (lack of) defense behind him

BOX SCORE

Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and the rest of the New York Yankees put on a jaw-dropping power display in batting practice Tuesday night. It was so impressive that they were cheered — loudly — when batting practice ended by the many fans who had made the trip to Philadelphia to support them.

Three pitches into the game, the cheering started again when Aaron Hicks crushed a Jake Arrieta fastball over the center-field wall.

Ballgame. 

The Phillies were dominated for the second night in a row in a 6-0 loss to the Yankees, who lead the American League East at 52-25 (see first take). The Phillies are 41-36 in the National League East.

Arrieta had a tough time locating his fastball with precision and he was hurt once again by his defense as an error by second baseman Cesar Hernandez led to three unearned runs in the third inning.

Earlier this month, Arrieta called out the defense after a loss in San Francisco.

This time, he was a little more philosophical.

“We didn’t score any runs so pretty much after the third pitch of the game, that was pretty much it,” he said. “You obviously don’t know that that’s going to be the case until the game plays out.”

Hernandez’s error — the Phillies’ 57th of the season, third most in the NL — came on a tailor-made double-play ball that would have ended the top of the third. Arrieta struck out Stanton for the second out then allowed two straight two-out hits.

“It was unfortunate, but I gave up nine hits and had an opportunity, even after the error,” Arrieta said. “Punch out Stanton and then base hit. Don’t give up the base hit and if it’s a tighter game going into the fifth or sixth inning, it might be a different outcome. That's my job to keep it as close as we can.” 

A month ago, Arrieta walked out of Dodger Stadium looking like the $75 million ace the Phillies hoped they were getting when they signed him over the winter. He went 2-1 in five starts in May and recorded an 0.90 ERA after giving up just three earned runs in 30 innings.

June was a different story. Arrieta went 0-4 with a 6.66 ERA in five starts. He gave up 32 hits, including seven home runs, in 25 2/3 innings. He allowed 27 runs, 19 of which were earned.

While Arrieta clearly was not sharp during the month, there was another factor in his struggles. The Phillies did not play sound defense behind him as the eight unearned runs attest. Shortstop Scott Kingery had a tough game behind Arrieta in a loss at Milwaukee. And then there was Hernandez in this one.

“Obviously, the stuff is there,” said Andrew Knapp, who caught Arrieta on Tuesday night. “Just kind of lacking a little bit of sharpness going into some hitters. I don't know if it's mechanical or just bad luck. I mean, we have to play better defense behind him. That's just a fact. He got a couple ground balls today that would have helped us. But, I mean, I'm not exactly sure what's going to get him over the hump. I know it's not a lack of effort.”

The month of June started with Arrieta publicly singling out Kingery for poor defense in San Francisco. Arrieta said the team needed to be more accountable after that loss. Since then, he is 0-3 with a 6.40 ERA in four starts. 

While Arrieta has backed off his criticism of the team’s defense, his words still resonate to the point where one has to wonder if the defense plays a little tight behind him.

Manager Gabe Kapler scoffed at that notion.

“I don't see Scott and Cesar as playing anything but loose behind all of our pitchers,” Kapler said. “In fact, I think we've seen that consistently with Scott, and Cesar has been solid on defense all season long. One moment does not make a man.”

Kapler did acknowledge that it wasn’t easy for a pitcher to overcome an error like the one Hernandez made.

“There’s no question,” he said. “I think it’s always difficult when you get a ground ball and we’re not able to make a play behind it. At the same time, Jake is Jake for a reason — because he’s able to weather those kinds of storms. That’s why he’s so important to us because he’s able to come back from those situations and get big outs. I have 100 percent confidence that the next time out he’s going to be the Jake that we believe in and depend on. It’s part of baseball. Guys make errors and you have to get ready for the next pitch and the next game.”

Against the powerhouse Yankees, there isn’t room for poor defense. There especially wasn’t with the way 24-year-old right-hander Luis Severino was pitching Tuesday night. He delivered seven innings of shutout ball, walked none and struck out nine for his majors-leading 12th win. His fastball averaged 98 mph and reached 100 mph.

“He was as dirty as possibly could be,” Kapler said. “He had a lot of life on the fastball. It was difficult to catch up to. The hitters knew it was going to be on top of them. He just had a little extra life today and sometime you just have to tip your cap to the opposing pitcher.”

Two nights in a row the Phillies have had to do that. Rookie Jonathan Loaisiga manhandled them on Monday night. The Phils have been outscored, 10-2, in two nights. They have just nine hits in the first two games of the series and have racked up 25 strikeouts.

“Dropping two in a row to these guys is tough, but they flat out beat us,” Arrieta said. “We’ll look to return the favor [Wednesday].”

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Jake Arrieta confident in 'strict' protocols, sees unique opportunity for 'something special'

Jake Arrieta confident in 'strict' protocols, sees unique opportunity for 'something special'

A number of high-profile major-league players have opted out of the shortened 2020 season because of concerns about coronavirus. San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey was the latest.

The opt outs, coupled with spikes in the virus in several states that have big-league teams, have fueled doubts that the season, due to start in 12 days, will even get off the ground.

Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta is not one of those doubters. 

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t execute a full season,” Arrieta said Saturday. “The protocols and safety guidelines we’re following here in Philadelphia are strict and for good reason. We have to take it upon ourselves to be safe. Limit interactions away from the field. We need to wear masks outside or in the clubhouse. That’s just what we need to do, be respectful and courteous to those around us.

“I don’t mean to be pessimistic. I feel like it will happen. It was scary to see Scotty (Kingery) get it and (Atlanta’s) Freddie Freeman get hit really hard the way he did. If it can happen to them, it can happen to any of us.

“There’s a lot on the line and we have an opportunity to do something special in a very strange year if we follow the protocols and I think everyone here is willing to do that.”

Arrieta was the Phillies’ pitcher the day the game was shut down by the pandemic back on March 12. He spent nearly four months at home in Austin, Texas with his wife and young son and daughter. His son, Cooper, teared up when dad left for the airport last week, but it was time to go back to work. Arrieta, 34, threw consistently during the shutdown. He got back on the mound with his teammates in Saturday’s intrasquad game.

Arrieta got 10 outs on 48 pitches. Half of the outs came on ground balls. He struck out one and walked one.

“Today was nice, very efficient,” Arrieta said. “The sinker was good. I threw some great cutters. Got a strikeout on a changeup.”

If Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler stay healthy and on track — Wheeler has the extra variable of a baby being due to arrive in a couple of weeks — Arrieta is likely to slot in third in the Phillies’ rotation. He is 18-19 with a 4.26 ERA in 55 starts over two seasons with the Phillies. He is healthy after having elbow surgery late last season. If you’re looking for X factors, or players who need to stand and deliver for this team to have success, Arrieta is right up there with Rhys Hoskins and others.
 
A good two-month run by Arrieta would help the Phillies’ chances greatly and springboard him into free agency this winter. 

The shutdown has hurt the sport’s revenues and that could soften the market for players like Arrieta next winter. 

For now, Arrieta is not concerned about that.

“If you look at (Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick) Mahomes’ deal, it shows that sports, and baseball is no different, will generate a tremendous amount of revenue regardless of what’s going on right now. We’ve seen certain TV deals be signed. Every free-agent class has obstacles. We can’t predict the future.

“We just have to play it out and see. There will be a lot of guys in the same boat as I am. I’ll handle that when time approaches.

“First and foremost, I’m concerned about the health and safety of our players and coaches and the people who provide everything they do for us, and trying to win some games.”

Arrieta will look to jump to 65 or so pitches in his next outing. He believes he will be ready to push 85 pitches in his first outing of the regular season. That could be as soon as two weeks from Sunday.

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After COVID-19 battle, Scott Kingery rejoins Phillies teammates

After COVID-19 battle, Scott Kingery rejoins Phillies teammates

Phillies second baseman Scott Kingery, who was hit hard by coronavirus, rejoined his teammates and went through a workout at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday.

Kingery took batting practice and did some fielding and throwing drills. He did not play in the team’s intrasquad game.

“I feel good physically,” Kingery said. “I’ll keep easing into things for a couple of days. I hope to get some live at-bats soon then get into a (intrasquad) game.”

It remains to be seen if Kingery will be ready to play when the season opens in 12 days. He believes he can be.

“I’m in pretty good baseball shape,” he said. “I’m just going to need to get into a live game and feel it out a little bit.”

Manager Joe Girardi said it was too early to tell whether Kingery would be ready for the opener. He said he would have a better idea where Kingery stood in a few days.

"I don't want him to end up on the injured list if his legs aren't ready," Girardi said.

The Phils have a number of veterans -- Josh Harrison, Logan Forsythe, Phil Gosselin and Neil Walker -- who can all play second base if Kingery isn't ready.

Kingery’s battle with coronavirus started on June 11. He has been healthy for more than two weeks but could not travel from his hometown of Phoenix to Philadelphia until he tested negative for the virus twice. His second negative test came back Wednesday afternoon and he took a red eye to Philadelphia that night. He arrived early Thursday morning.

Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia, Kingery was checked out by doctors. His exam included an EKG.

“They wanted to look at my heart and see if anything got messed up from COVID,” Kingery said.

All was good.

“It’s been a month-long process to get back on the field,” Kingery said. “I’m glad to be back.”

Kingery, who experienced shortness of breath when he was ill, experimented wearing a mask during drills in the field. He found it a little difficult to breathe with the mask. He’s not sure if he will continue to wear one in the field, but definitely will in the clubhouse and when around others.

Kingery knows how rugged coronavirus can be. He’s committed to following protocols.

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