Andrew Knapp

Arrieta exudes leadership, veteran savvy in pacing another Phillies’ win

Arrieta exudes leadership, veteran savvy in pacing another Phillies’ win

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Jake Arrieta prides himself on being a leader to this young Phillies’ pitching staff.

“More than anything, you want to lead by example,” he said. “Part of the mentorship and trying to help these guys progress is exactly that – going out there, having a plan, being prepared and executing. You can talk to guys until you’re blue in the face, but until you can go out there and put up results and show these guys that what you do in between starts really pays dividends, then guys really start to buy in.

“Actions speak louder than words. Any time you can put into motion what you’re trying to emphasize to these guys plays a huge role in their development. I don’t intend to be a preacher, but there’s a lot of things that I regard highly as a starting pitcher and I’m trying to emphasize to these guys and they’re grasping it and running with it.”

Arrieta provided a great example in how to grind when you don’t have your best stuff and how to minimize damage in tight situations in helping lead the Phillies to a 5-3 win over Arizona on Wednesday night (see first take).

Aaron Altherr’s three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning against Zack Greinke was the big blow for the Phillies, but also important was the way Arrieta kept everything together in the top of the fourth inning. A leadoff error, a single and two Arrieta walks pushed an Arizona run home and the bases were still loaded with no outs.

The 32-year-old former NL Cy Young winner heard a few boos – “Who likes a bases-loaded walk?” he said. “I would have booed, too.” – but he responded by getting two ground balls, one a neatly started double play by Maikel Franco, to get out of the inning and limit the damage.

“Tonight was one of those games where a young starting pitcher could give up six or seven runs,” Arrieta said. “That’s just kind of how it goes. Bases loaded no outs. A double in the gap, a walk, things escalate and before you know it you’re out of the game in the fifth. So being able to slow it down, take a deep breath, collect yourself, and then get focused on executing a pitch is really what I try and emphasize to all of these guys and if you’re able to do that more times than not you’ll be able to come out ahead.”

Arrieta battled his way through seven innings for his third straight quality start and the Phillies' 12th in 23 games as a staff. Only one of the three runs he allowed was earned as he pitched over errors by Franco, J.P. Crawford and Andrew Knapp.

“We have to defend the baseball better, everybody knows it,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

Arrieta picked up the defenders and Altherr picked up everybody when he clubbed a 2-1 slider into the shrubs in center field for a three-run homer. Greinke doubled up with his slider. Altherr was looking for it and exploded on it.

Why was he looking for that pitch?

“I’d rather not say,” Altherr said with a laugh. “I’ll keep my thoughts to myself on that one.”

Makes sense. Altherr will see Greinke again someday. In the meantime, the Phils are 15-8 and they will look to take the rubber match of the series on Thursday afternoon.

Phillies are 14-7 and there's reason to think they'll get even better

Phillies are 14-7 and there's reason to think they'll get even better

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If you were told at the beginning of the season that 21 games in, Carlos Santana would be hitting .151 and Aaron Altherr .157 ... what would you think the Phillies' record would be?

It probably would not have been 14-7.

And yet here the Phillies are, a game behind the Diamondbacks for the best record in the National League after completing a four-game sweep of the Pirates Sunday.

This win was dramatic, with the Phillies coming back from a two-run deficit and walking it off in the 11th inning (see first take). Altherr played the hero with a game-winning single after Andrew Knapp just missed a walk-off homer to the left-field wall and settled for a triple.

After the game, manager Gabe Kapler called it the proudest he's been of his team.

"I just think there were so many standout performances up and down the lineup, across our roster," Kapler said. "Getting Tommy (Hunter) back, there were just so many positive things that happened, you can't help but instill confidence.

"We're having a lot of fun. Keeping it light, we laugh in the dugout. I hope you guys are seeing that. A lot of smiles and a lot of laughter, and after the games, we're having a great time in [the clubhouse]. We take it seriously and we prepare like animals, but we also enjoy each others' company and we're laughing a lot."

The most interesting part about this hot start is that the Phillies aren't even firing on all cylinders. The pitching has been great — particularly the starters, who have a 2.38 ERA and 0.98 WHIP the last 12 games — but the Phils are hitting just .231.

They do, however, lead the majors with 98 walks. They couldn't muster much offense Sunday against Pirates right-hander Trevor Williams, but they made him work. Through five innings, Williams was at 83 pitches with a breakdown of 42 strikes and 41 balls.

"Once we really start getting going it's gonna be real fun because we're in these games even when we're not feeling the best at the plate," Knapp said.

"We've been putting really quality at-bats together. I know the average isn't there, but we're making pitchers really work. We're seeing a ton of pitches and that's a big deal." 

Altherr didn't even start Sunday, but he came in midway through the game on a double-switch and ended up going 3 for 3 with a triple and the game-winning knock. He needed a game like this in the worst way. He entered the afternoon 5 for 48 (.104) with 18 strikeouts.

"It can be really difficult," Altherr admitted. "It's getting more difficult as the days went on. I know it's just baseball and things like [bad luck] happen, but you start wondering when it's going to start turning here. I'm just trying to stay positive and working the cage. I've been working on getting my timing back."

Kapler was especially excited for Altherr, who will be a key member of this offense moving forward even after a rough April.

"Coming out of camp, we felt strongly that he was one our best offensive players," Kapler said of Altherr. "We felt like he was going to be an incredible contributor with the bat. And he's had to endure a lot early in the season. He's had some bad luck. He's had to endure not being an everyday guy so far. 

"Every single day he came with a smile on his face. He's come prepared. He's worked his tail off. Good things happen to good people. He's going to get plenty of opportunities to perform for us. But I couldn't be happier for the way his at-bats have gone over the course of the last three or four days. He just got rewarded today. It felt like everything fell into place the way it should for Aaron. Really, really excited he came up big the way he did today. He deserves it."

Phillies learning how to win and Andrew Knapp has interesting reason why

Phillies learning how to win and Andrew Knapp has interesting reason why

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The Phillies have the look of a team learning how to win.

The rotation is thriving, the bullpen is getting better each game despite missing its two highest-priced arms, and the offense is alternating between putting up crooked numbers and doing just enough.

Friday's 2-1 win over the Pirates involved all three of those early-season themes: strong starting pitching, a bullpen that did its job, and timely hitting (see first take)

The Phillies are now 5-1 in one-run games, the best mark in the National League and second best in all of baseball, behind only the can't-lose Red Sox.

"I think it is an indication that a young team is coming together, that a young team believes in themselves when the game's on the line," manager Gabe Kapler said of the one-run wins.

"We've talked a lot in the clubhouse and in the dugout about how important it is for good teams to win one-run games. A couple things we talk about: one-run games and having big innings. We've done both of those things this season."

They sure have. On top of leading the NL in one-run wins, the Phillies also have 10 different innings this season with at least four runs. Entering Friday night, the entire rest of the National League had 56, which averages out to four per team.

Success or failure in one-run games is volatile and unpredictable. Teams that thrive one season sputter the next and vice versa.

But catcher Andrew Knapp had an interesting take on the early success in one-run games. The way he sees it, these habits were developed by this Phillies' core in the minor leagues. Remember, Double A Reading dominated when this core was there, and then Triple A Lehigh Valley did the same once the wave of promotions began.

"This group has won a lot of those games, even in the minor leagues. Playing together, we know how to win in a tough spot and stay in a game late," Knapp said. "For us, this is kind of something we've always done, but now we're doing it at the big-league level."

Two other fun Phillies stats to come out of Friday night:

• They've opened the season 7-1 at home for the first time since 1981.

• They've allowed one or no runs seven times now in just 19 games. Last season, it took exactly 80 games for them do it seven times.