Phillies

Phillies ready to pursue Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, others as free-agent market opens

Phillies ready to pursue Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, others as free-agent market opens

The most hotly anticipated Phillies offseason in years is upon us. 

Bryce Harper is out there. Manny Machado is out there. Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, Dallas Keuchel and Nathan Eovaldi are out there, too. Bats and arms. All are available on the free-agent market. The Phillies have money and they are ready to mix it up just like they did when Jim Thome and Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay (OK, he technically came in a trade, but there was a contract extension tagged on) were out there.

Free agents can begin signing as soon as 5 p.m. Saturday, but the market will take longer than that to unfold. Groundwork for signings has already taken place and more will at next week’s general managers meetings in San Diego.

So which way will the Phillies go? 

That is difficult to say. First, the organization plays things very close to the vest. Second, things can change at this time of the year. Remember last offseason? Early on, team officials were lukewarm on the idea of signing Jake Arrieta, who started off seeking a deal of five-plus years. A few months later, he was on Air Middleton, jetting to Clearwater with a three-year deal.

If you’ve listened closely to comments made by general manager Matt Klentak over the last few months, you know he is not locked in on one way to improve the club this winter. There are scenarios in which he could go the pitching route and be in on the top free-agent arms. He has the money to do it. Or he could go all-in on one of the two big bats, Harper or Machado. He would probably be best served trying to pull off a combination because the Phillies need offense and starting pitching. Some of this is unpredictable because many other teams will be in the mix for these aforementioned players and you’d better have Plans A, B, C, D and E (as well as trade scenarios) as the music stops and players pick their chairs.

For a couple of years now, the Phillies have been connected to Machado. Loaded with talent and just 26, he would fit well into the construction of this roster. Yes, he made some troubling comments about not hustling last month, and yes, those comments have given Phillies officials a lot to think about. But the Phils remain open-minded on Machado and will be in on him. His talent mandates that the team stay in on him and see where it goes. Machado, the good and the bad, is the same player he was in Baltimore and the Phillies wanted him badly in July. One bad month isn’t changing that. Some fans will never forget his troubling comments and that’s understandable in a town that adored Brian Dawkins and Chase Utley. Others will forgive and forget when he hits .380 in June and launches a ball into the upper deck to win a game.

But Harper, also 26 and dripping with talent, is just as realistic a possibility as Machado. With his power and on-base skills, he fits what this front office is trying to do with its lineup. These are players that could cost $250 million or more, depending on how the market goes.

The Phillies are ready to spend. They are open to all sorts of possibilities.

The most hotly anticipated Phillies offseason in years is here.

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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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