Phillies

Phillies go down to the wire as they seek trade-deadline upgrade

Phillies go down to the wire as they seek trade-deadline upgrade

BOSTON — While the Phillies got ready to test themselves against the best team in baseball Monday night at Fenway Park, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak was hunkered down at Citizens Bank Park trying to pull off a move to improve his club before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline.

Klentak traded for switch-hitting infielder Asdrubal Cabrera on Friday and best guess is he will make another move before the deadline. The focus remains adding a bat to the outfield/bench mix and a reliever, possibly a lefty.

The Phillies have continued to monitor the starting pitching market. They are always interested in top-tier starters under team control — i.e., Chris Archer, Michael Fulmer, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler — but the prices are high on those pitchers and there’s no guarantee they will be moved. Adding a starting pitcher could allow the Phillies to move Nick Pivetta to the bullpen, where his strikeout arm could be a weapon. If the Phils were to look for more of a mid-rotation starter or swingman, they could consider someone like Texas Rangers lefty Mike Minor, who is signed through 2020. The Rangers are listening on pretty much everyone.

Possible outfield/bench bats include Curtis Granderson. The Phillies made an offer to Baltimore that would have netted them Adam Jones. But Jones is not ready to waive his no-trade rights. Sometimes minds can change closer to the deadline.

Before Monday night’s game against Boston, manager Gabe Kapler was asked if he believed a trade was coming.

“My feel is that up until the last moment, Matt is going to be working his fingers to the bone and that has been what he’s been doing to this point, looking to upgrade either marginally or making a significant impact,” Kapler said. “He’ll continue to do that to the finish line and anything he needs from me in the way of support or how something that he’s identifying will fit our group, I’m going to be there for him.

“But I will reiterate what I’ve said for the last 10 days: Everything that we need to be successful going forward is in that [clubhouse]. We are here in first place because of the men in that room, and, again, if they take a small step forward, continue their development and get a little better, we win a lot of games from here on out.”

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Are we seeing a different Jake Arrieta? Bryce Harper, Joe Girardi excited and encouraged

Are we seeing a different Jake Arrieta? Bryce Harper, Joe Girardi excited and encouraged

Jake Arrieta's three-year run with the Phillies will end in a few months, but he still has a chance to make up for lost time and underwhelming performance. So far in 2020, he's on the right track.

Arrieta made one of his best starts in a Phillies uniform Saturday night, pitching six scoreless innings with six strikeouts against the Braves. His sinker sat 93-94 mph and was dancing. Everything else played off of it. The Braves went 1 for 9 in at-bats ending in Arrieta's cutter, curveball and changeup.

With Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler atop the rotation and the promise of newcomer Spencer Howard, a healthy and effective Arrieta could truly solidify the staff. Perhaps even turn it into one of the better rotations in the National League.

"I thought he threw the crap out of it," Bryce Harper said after Arrieta's win Saturday night. "I mean, his backdoor sinker, I haven't seen 93 (mph) from him in a couple years. If he's throwing that backdoor sinker and he's throwing off that with the cutter, he's very tough. I think when he was really, really good, especially in 2015, he was doing that. He was coming inside a little bit, but also getting under the hands. He's just throwing really well right now. He's healthy. That's the biggest thing."

Arrieta had a 2.73 ERA in 128 starts with the Cubs. When he found his most success, the sinker was the main source. Against the Braves, Arrieta froze hitters for called strike threes on sinkers that broke back over the plate late, and he was also able to throw that sinker inside in mostly unhittable zones to righties.

He didn't have that kind of command in 2019, when he spent most of the season pitching through elbow and knee injuries that significantly affected the feel, movement and location of his pitches. Arrieta could have just gone away and rehabbed last summer. Instead, he toughed it out because the Phillies' pitching staff was so bad that even Arrieta at 60% was better than most of the alternatives. 

Usually, Philly loves an athlete who plays through pain. But Arrieta was not well-received last season because of the lack of production relative to expectations, and also because of a few instances in which he was brutally honest after games when asked about teammates' miscues or coaching strategies.

Had he produced, perhaps the fanbase would have interpreted those comments about infield shifts or needing more from teammates as refreshing authenticity. As baseball has shown us for over 100 years, perception is based on production.

"I have more weapons at my disposal than I’ve had the last couple years," Arrieta said. "I feel like I’m gonna be able to maintain the feel of my stuff deeper into games.

"Now I have the ability to throw my breaking balls with more effect. Everything's coming out of my hand a little bit more crisp, especially the command glove-side and being able to move the sinker in — especially right-handed hitters — at will. That ability is there, so I have more weapons at my disposal that I didn't necessarily have in the last year or two. So, you know, that's a good sign for us."

Arrieta's next start should be Thursday against the Orioles, the team that drafted him in the fifth round in 2007. He figures to make about 10 more starts in the regular season. So far, he has a 2.45 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with 10 strikeouts and one walk.

"It's difficult to pitch when you have a knee problem, an elbow problem, any problem. And what I've seen in the first two starts has been extremely impressive," manager Joe Girardi said. "It's really encouraging.

"It's the late movement. He has the ability to bring that sinker back on right-handers. Start it over the outside corner and bring it back. I just think he's got such late movement and really knows how to pitch. If he feels good, I feel really good about what he's going to do."

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Phillies beat Braves behind strong games from Jake Arrieta, Jay Bruce, J.T. Realmuto

Phillies beat Braves behind strong games from Jake Arrieta, Jay Bruce, J.T. Realmuto

Updated, 10 p.m.

Now that is the version of Jake Arrieta the Phillies need, the kind that can solidify a rotation. 

Arrieta pitched a gem and the Phillies hit two homers in a four-run fourth inning to beat the Braves 5-0 in Saturday's series opener at Citizens Bank Park.

The win gets the Phillies to .500 at 4-4. The Braves are 9-6.

J.T. Realmuto and Jay Bruce both homered in the decisive fourth. Realmuto's was a bomb to the last row of seats in the first deck in left field. It was his fourth already this season, in 73 fewer plate appearances than it took him last year.

"He's really turned into a premium offensive player over the last couple years," Bruce said of his teammate.

Bruce's came on the first pitch against Braves right-hander Kyle Wright. He started in left and Andrew McCutchen was the DH. The Phils have benefitted from Bruce's extra bat in the lineup with a couple of homers.

Arrieta cruised

It was a strong outing from Arrieta, who was locked-in and efficient and sounded encouraged after the game. He put only two Braves on base over his first five innings on a pair of singles. He struck out six and his sinker sat 93-94 mph. 

Arrieta pitched out of a potential jam in his final inning, finding fortune in the form of a Dansby Swanson line drive right at shortstop Didi Gregorius, who threw to second to double off Adeiny Hechavarria.

Through two starts, Arrieta is 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA. 

"What I've seen in the first two starts is extremely impressive in its execution," manager Joe Girardi said of Arrieta after the game. "He was really sharp tonight again. It's really encouraging. I feel really good about what he's going to do."

Arrieta pitched through an elbow injury last summer. He did not have the proper feel of his breaking ball and it affected his entire repertoire. There were nights when he didn't seem to know where the ball was going. 

Different story so far in 2020.

“I have more weapons at my disposal than I’ve had the last couple years," Arrieta said. "I feel like I’m gonna be able to maintain the feel of my stuff deeper into games.”

Gotta love those three-run dingers

Bruce's three-run homer in the fourth inning was the Phillies' fourth in eight games this season. Realmuto has two; Bryce Harper and Bruce have one apiece.

The Phils have hit 12 homers in their eight games. They entered Saturday night ranked first in the majors in on-base percentage, sixth in slugging and fourth in OPS. The offense would be receiving more credit if it wasn't overshadowed by the bullpen's early-season meltdowns.

J.T. is on fire

An inning after hitting his fourth homer, Realmuto flew out to the scoreboard in right-center, just missing another one. He lined out to sharply to center in his final AB. Even the outs are crushed right now.

Realmuto has been the Phillies' best offensive player so far. They needed him to start fast and he has. Last season, Realmuto was still hitting in the .250s in July with an OPS in the mid-.700s. He drove the ball over his final 200 plate appearances to finish with a solid offensive year.

Over his last 55 games dating back to last July 27, Realmuto has hit .305/.356/.634 with 17 home runs and 46 RBI.

"J.T.'s super talented. He does so many things for this team," Girardi said. "As good as he is offensively, he puts his heart and his soul in defense and calling games. J.T.'s a player you don't have to worry about being prepared. That's what every manager wants.

"I hope he stays really hot for like three months."

Bullpen holds up again

Jose Alvarez, Tommy Hunter and Deolis Guerra combined for three scoreless innings and allowed just one baserunner. The Phillies' bullpen has allowed two runs in eight innings in its last two games, two steps in the right direction.

Before the game, pitching coach Bryan Price talked about the need for the "second layer" of Phillies relievers to step up with so many doubleheaders on the schedule.

Harper does it with defense

Harper, who reprioritized defense prior to a strong 2019, continues to impress in the field. He made this diving catch in the fifth inning Saturday. He also went 2 for 4 with a double.

The Phillies' defense has not been an issue so far. They've committed just three errors in eight games, none from their new left side of the infield. Jean Segura bobbled a hot shot to third base in the first inning but recovered to get Swanson by a step at first base. It was the kind of play that could have altered the game early if it wasn't made, especially ahead of Freddie Freeman.

Twin bill on Sundee

The Phillies play a seven-inning doubleheader against the Braves Sunday beginning at 1:05 p.m. Game 2 will begin 40 minutes after Game 1. 

Vince Velasquez will start in one of the games and top prospect Spencer Howard will make his MLB debut in the other.

The four-game wraparound series ends Monday night when Aaron Nola faces Atlanta.

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