Phillies

Phillies break camp, head home with highest expectations in years

Phillies break camp, head home with highest expectations in years

On his last day in Florida, Gabe Kapler put the top down and took his new and improved lineup for a spin.

The Phillies manager used what figures to be his opening day lineup — minus starting pitcher Aaron Nola — for the team’s final spring-training game Monday.

The unit — with a little help from minor-leaguer Malvin Matos — pulled out a curtain-closing, 3-2, win over the Tampa Bay Rays at sun-splashed Spectrum Field. Matos, up for the day from minor-league camp, won it with a walk-off homer in the bottom of ninth and everybody left happy.

The new season starts Thursday when the Phillies host the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of 162. Nola, who finished third in National League Cy Young voting last season, will oppose right-hander Julio Teheran.

The Phillies added two former NL MVPs, a former NL hits leader and the best catcher in baseball this winter and expectations are high for this club that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2011, its last winning season.

Kapler had his game face on after Monday's spring finale.

“I think we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I think this team has a ton of potential, but we have to stay focused every single day.

“We have to come to the ballpark every day with a game plan of doing the little things right, running the bases hard and executing fundamentals. If we do that, we can do good things.”

The Phils will send Nick Pivetta to the mound in the second game of the series on Saturday. He will face rookie right-hander Bryse Wilson. Jake Arrieta will start Sunday night’s nationally televised game against another Atlanta rookie right-hander, Kyle Wright.

The Phillies will play their fourth game of the season Apr. 2 at Washington and send Zach Eflin to the mound. That should be a wild scene with Bryce Harper, the hood ornament on Kapler’s new and improved lineup, returning to the city in which he played for seven seasons.

Harper, a former NL MVP, anchored Kapler’s lineup in the No. 3 spot Monday. He will be right back there Thursday and could stay there all season as Kapler, with improved personnel, has said he’ll try to keep guys in consistent spots in the order this year.

Kapler’s sneak-peek lineup looked like this Monday:

Andrew McCutchen LF
Jean Segura SS
Bryce Harper LF
Rhys Hoskins 1B
J.T. Realmuto C
Odubel Herrera CF
Cesar Hernandez 2B
Maikel Franco 3B

Last season, Hernandez was the Phillies’ primary leadoff man and Franco often batted in the middle of the order. They significantly strengthen the bottom third of the order. Franco homered on Monday and Hernandez doubled.

Four of the top five spots in the batting order were occupied by newcomers, McCutchen, another former MVP, at the top followed by former NL hits champ Segura and Harper. Realmuto caught and hit fifth.

“It’s exciting,” Arrieta said of the lineup. “More than anything I think it puts a little fear into the opposition. I don’t know if you call it fear, it’s just maybe a little more preparation goes into facing a lineup like we have this year.

“With the guys we’ve got, there’s really not a break in our lineup. It’s going to be fun.”

Arrieta started Monday and struck out eight over six innings in his final spring tune-up. Pivetta pitched into the sixth inning in a minor-league game and struck out nine.

Over the weekend, Nola said: “We have a team to make the playoffs, but we still have to go out there and win and we still have to go out there and compete. Expectations are better than no expectations and that’s going to raise our game up, I believe.”

Arrieta concurred.

“Of course, I think we're a playoff team,” he said Monday. “You look at the team we had last year, we were borderline. We had our chances. Some youth, some inexperience, maybe some hangover from a tough series carried on to the next vs. the cliché of turning the page quick. This group is much better suited to deal with adversity.

“The Braves doing what they did to us last year in winning the division, not that there has to be a chip on our shoulder, but a lot of guys in here remember how it shook down for us, the way the season finished, and we don’t want that to happen again.”

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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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Phillies 3, Mets 2: Scott Kingery, Cesar Hernandez provide Phils just enough offense for series win

Phillies 3, Mets 2: Scott Kingery, Cesar Hernandez provide Phils just enough offense for series win

Another strong performance from Jake Arrieta and a pair of solo home runs were the difference for the Phillies Wednesday afternoon as they completed a series win over the Mets with a 3-2 victory.

Arrieta allowed one run over eight innings, improving to 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA through four starts. He's made four straight quality starts to begin his season. He did not have a streak of four straight quality starts at any point in 2018.

Arrieta came out to pitch the ninth but was pulled after allowing a leadoff single, which eventually came around to score. Adam Morgan and Hector Neris walked a tightrope but picked up the final three outs. Neris struck Keon Broxton out on a full count with the bases loaded to close it out.

The Phillies are 11-6 and have gone 4-1-1 in their six series. The Mets are 10-8.

Keys to victory

• Scott Kingery stayed hot with a solo home run. Since starting the season 0 for 4, Kingery is 12 for 20 with four doubles and two homers. At no point in his rookie year was he this hot.

• Cesar Hernandez had a productive day at the plate against Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler. Hernandez worked an 11-pitch walk in the second inning to load the bases, and Maikel Franco followed with a sacrifice fly for the Phillies' first run. In the sixth, Hernandez took Wheeler deep for his second longball of the year.

• Arrieta induced inning-ending double plays in the third, seventh and eighth innings. He allowed only six fly balls to the 28 batters he faced.

• J.T. Realmuto is hot at the plate. He went 2 for 4 with a pair of singles and is up to .279/.348/.426 on the season. His work on the basepaths was what stood out the most. He went first to third on a single to left field, scored on a sac fly to center with the centerfielder catching the ball while running toward the plate, and later beat out an infield single. Ninety percent of catchers would be out on all three plays.

Another hammy pull

Odubel Herrera left the game in the fifth inning with an apparent hamstring injury, making it two hammy pulls in two days for the Phillies after Jean Segura left last night. A call-up of Roman Quinn is the logical move if Herrera has to miss time.

Rotation shakeup

Nick Pivetta was optioned to Triple A on Wednesday morning. Jerad Eickhoff takes his spot for the time being and will start Sunday at Coors Field.

Up next

The Phillies head to Colorado. The pitching matchups are:

Thursday — Zach Eflin (2-1, 3.94) vs. LHP Kyle Freeland (1-3, 5.40)

Friday — Vince Velasquez (0-0, 2.25) vs. German Marquez (2-1, 2.00)

Saturday — Aaron Nola (1-0, 7.45) vs. Antonio Senzatela (1-0, 1.35)

Sunday — Jerad Eickhoff (0-0, 0.00) vs. Jon Gray (1-3, 3.42)

Marquez is one tough customer. He pitched a one-hit shutout Sunday against the Giants.

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