Jake Arrieta

Inquisitive Phillies catching prospect Deivi Grullon shines early in camp

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Inquisitive Phillies catching prospect Deivi Grullon shines early in camp

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Just before 9 o’clock Monday morning, Deivi Grullon rose from his seat in the Phillies clubhouse, walked over to Jake Arrieta and asked if he had a minute.

Grullon, a young catcher in his first big-league camp, proceeded to pepper the former Cy Young Award winner with questions.

“It was an interesting conversation,” Grullon said through Spanish-language translator Diego Ettedgui later in the day. “I’m trying to learn as much as possible.”

Grullon spoke the word esponja.

Sponge.

It might have taken a little nerve for Grullon to approach Arrieta, but he explained that he has been encouraged to build a bond with pitchers. The day before, Grullon had been in the video room watching tape of Arrieta pitching in a game last season. He was curious about Arrieta’s thought process in attacking right-handed hitters with his sinker and was eager to learn about it, just in case he found himself catching the pitcher this spring. Arrieta was gracious and more than willing to fill up the sponge. During the conversation, Arrieta reached into his locker, grabbed a baseball and showed Grullon several different pitch grips.

The early-morning clubhouse scene proved to be a fitting backdrop to the day because, later on, manager Gabe Kapler raved about what he’d seen from Grullon in the first week of workouts. Kapler had been impressed by Grullon’s raw power — especially to the opposite field — at the plate and his willingness to work hard on framing pitches behind it.

“There had been a little bit of information presented to me that his concentration level waned from time to time,” Kapler said. “I have not seen that. I have actually seen the concentration super high. The work he’s done with (catching instructors) Craig Driver and Bob Stumpo has been really good. They’ve seen improvement in just four or five days.

“This is a guy that from a raw talent perspective, our player development staff has been excited about for a couple of years. He’s kind of stood out so far.”

Grullon, who turned 23 earlier this week, is powerfully built at 5-10 and 235 pounds. He was signed for $575,000 out of the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2012. The Phillies have long liked the power in his bat and in his throwing arm. He had a strong season at Double-A Reading in 2018, hitting .273 with a .825 OPS, 21 homers and 59 RBIs in 326 at-bats.

The Phils rolled the dice and left Grullon unprotected in the Rule 5 draft in December. No team selected him and he is slated to be the No. 1 catcher at Triple-A Lehigh Valley this season. It will be a good test and if he passes it, the Phillies will likely have to protect him next winter.

In the meantime, Grullon is happy to be in his first big-league camp, happy to be making an impression and soaking up all the knowledge he can.

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Jake Arrieta reveals root of knee injury, expresses optimism on Manny Machado-Bryce Harper front

Jake Arrieta reveals root of knee injury, expresses optimism on Manny Machado-Bryce Harper front

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Jake Arrieta has an explanation for his struggles late last season.

A cartilage injury in his left knee.

“I originally tore it sometime in June, I believe, maybe a little bit before that,” Arrieta revealed Thursday.

The right-hander kept the issue quiet and pitched through it, but his performance suffered down the stretch. He went 1-5 with a 6.35 ERA over his final nine starts.

The issue cropped up again during offseason workouts at home in Texas and this time Arrieta spoke up. He flew to Philadelphia in January, had an MRI and a surgical procedure to clean up the tear.

It was good that Arrieta suffered the flareup when he did. He has plenty of time to recover and be ready to start the season on time. In fact, he’s already thrown from a bullpen mound. Pain-free.

“I have zero concerns about Jake Arrieta,” general manager Matt Klentak said.

Though he prefers his players to speak up when they don't feel right, manager Gabe Kapler was not surprised that Arrieta continued to pitch with pain in his knee last season.

“Jake’s a tough individual so he’s not the kind of guy who’s going to let on that something’s bugging him because there’s a lot of pride there,” Kapler said.

Arrieta, who turns 33 in March, is an interesting guy in this camp, a very important member of the pitching staff as he enters the second season of a three-year, $75 million contract, and a bit of a case study for the direction free agency is going these days.

A year ago, he was at home, working out by himself. He had entered the offseason seeking deals of up to seven years. The Phillies weren’t about to visit that neighborhood. They made a three-year offer and waited and waited — and eventually, Arrieta took it in mid-March.

Now, the Phillies are traveling the same road with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.

“I was in that same boat,” Arrieta said. “From the outside looking in, from the fan perspective, people think we're not just signing, or guys are turning deals down. The truth is, the right deal for those guys might not be there. They want to be here. They want to be in camp with their teammates. That was the hardest part for me, not being in Clearwater with these guys for the first three weeks — not getting to develop those relationships, get to know the catchers, the coaching staff. That's tough.

“Manny and Bryce aren't the only two out there right now. Those guys, I promise you, want to be in a camp with a team today if that is a possibility. It's tough on them and their families to not have a team to be with. Even though those guys are going to get taken care of financially, it's still tough on them not being in a clubhouse and getting to cultivate those relationships that are so important for everyone on the team.”

Teams are trying (and succeeding) to take back the hammer from the players in free agency and the players’ union might not be able to counterpunch until the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season.

“Absolutely,” said Arrieta when asked if the strength of the union was being tested. “We have two or three more years under the current bargaining agreement, so it's going to be tough. Last thing anyone wants to see is a strike. But we have to find a way to unite on both sides and make this work. We have to come together as a union to see if we can figure out a way to come to some agreement with the league on a better way to navigate the free-agent market. Some things need to change.”

Arrieta was a teammate of Machado in Baltimore and he shares an agent (Scott Boras) with Harper. Despite these connections, he professed to have no inside information on which player the Phillies might land.

“But I could definitely see at least one of those guys here,” he said.

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Jake Arrieta’s status for opening day following knee surgery

Jake Arrieta’s status for opening day following knee surgery

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Right out of the gate, two Phillies starting pitchers are dealing with health issues.

Jake Arrieta had surgery to address a cartilage issue in his left knee last month and Jerad Eickhoff is once again feeling symptoms of a problem he thought he had fixed with offseason surgery.

Manager Gabe Kapler revealed the news on both pitchers after the team’s first official workout for pitchers and catchers Wednesday.

Kapler stressed that Arrieta’s issue was “small” and that the right-hander is on track to open the season on time. 

“It was just a meniscus cleanup,” Kapler said. “There were no structural issues. He's already been off the mound a couple of times. We're just going to be smart about his running and cutting progression.”

Eickhoff had surgery to address carpal tunnel syndrome in October. Kapler said he experienced more symptoms in January. Eickhoff has seen doctors and, as of now, is not a candidate for more surgery, according to Kapler. Eickhoff will throw in the bullpen in about a week and the Phillies will evaluate him then. The 28-year-old right-hander was the Phillies’ top starter in 2016. He has been plagued by the issue the last two seasons.

According to Kapler, Arrieta experienced some discomfort in his knee while working out last month.

Arrieta, who turns 33 in three weeks, is entering the second season of a three-year, $75 million contract. He went 10-11 with a 3.96 ERA in 31 starts last season. He struggled down the stretch, going 1-5 with a 6.35 ERA over his final nine starts.

News of the pitchers’ health issues once again illustrate the fragility of big-league pitching and the importance of having depth. The Phillies tried to add a starting pitcher earlier this winter but their offers were rejected by Patrick Corbin and J.A Happ. The Phillies are believed to still be interested in adding a starter and could try to sign someone like Dallas Keuchel in the coming weeks. Keuchel, the 2015 American League Cy Young winner, is a free agent.

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