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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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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NBCSP

At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies