Jake Arrieta

Defense comes through for Jake Arrieta as Phillies increase lead in NL East

Defense comes through for Jake Arrieta as Phillies increase lead in NL East

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MIAMI — With an average age of 26 years and seven months, the Phillies have the youngest roster in the majors. Youth particularly stands out on the starting pitching staff. Vince Velasquez turned 26 last month. Aaron Nola turned 25 last month. Nick Pivetta is 25. Zach Eflin is 24.

None of these pitchers have ever performed in the crucible that is a pennant race. Of course, they are about to. With two games to play before the All-Star break, the Phillies are leading the National League East and when they come back from the break next week, the pennant race will be on.

That’s why Jake Arrieta is so important to this club. He is 32. He has won a Cy Young Award. He has pitched in pennant races and the World Series. The Phillies’ young staff, so far a great strength in this surprising season, is going to need his been-there-done-that guidance and production in the second half.

If Arrieta’s final start before the break was any indication, he’s ready to deliver.

The right-hander tossed seven shutout innings to lead a 2-0 win over the Miami Marlins on Friday night (see first take).

“What an incredible performance,” manager Gabe Kapler said of Arrieta’s work. “Jake's very aware. He understands what's going on around him. So he knows that our bullpen has been stressed. He knows that we don't have off days. He knows that we're inching toward the break. And he said, 'You can climb on my back.' I really believe that was what he demonstrated today. He wanted to reassure our team that we could ride him and we could depend on him. He was just that, a stable and strong force for us.”

The victory was the Phillies' 12th in the last 16 games as they improved to 53-40 — a season-best 13 games over .500 — and added a game to their lead over Altanta in the NL East. They lead the division by 1½ games. They are nine games into an 11-game road trip that will take them into the All-Star break. They are 6-3 on the trip with Nola and Eflin slated to pitch the final two games before the break.

Arrieta has pitched well in both of his starts on this trip. He pitched seven innings of two-run ball Saturday night in Pittsburgh.

The Phillies need him to continue to pitch this way, or, to use Kapler’s expression, put the team on his back every fifth day.

“I’m comfortable in that position,” Arrieta said. “It’s good for Vinnie, Pivetta, Nola, Eflin to see that. We’re trying to win this division. It’s a next-man-up kind of thing. Let’s have a nice outing and use that as momentum moving forward and have the next guy carry the torch and pass to the next guy. That’s how the best teams do it. They thrive off of their teammates' success. It’s a competition within the group, within the five of us, and we just want to keep it rolling.

“It’s our job to keep it close and give our offense the ability to put some runs on the board.”

The Phillies did not put a lot of runs on the board. Aaron Altherr, a right-handed bat, got a start against lefty Wei-Yin Chen and came through with an RBI double in the second inning. Maikel Franco swatted his third homer in six games to give the Phils some padding in the ninth.

Arrieta said he did not have his best stuff. He benefitted from two double plays and one of the best defensive plays the Phillies have turned all season. The play occurred in the sixth inning with the Phils up, 1-0. Altherr, who moments earlier had moved from center field to right field for defensive reasons, grabbed Derek Dietrich’s scorched liner off the wall and made a perfect relay throw to Scott Kingery. The Phillies shortstop then fired a strike to catcher Jorge Alfaro, who applied a quick tag on Cameron Maybin as he tried to score the tying run from first base.

Dietrich’s shot to right missed being a two-run homer by a couple of inches. Maybin did not slide. Sure, those two things went the Phillies’ way, but the defensive execution was perfect, and Arrieta, who had been thwarted by poor defense a number of times in previous starts, deserved it.

Arrieta got a good view of the play as he backed up home plate.

“I’m like, ‘This run is going to score. It’s going to be 1-1,'" Arrieta said. “You know, not a terrible spot to be, but you obviously don’t want that to take place. To have that point of view from where I was and to see it unfold like that — it’s a fraction of a fraction of a second that accounts for the guy being out or safe. Everything has to go right. Altherr has to play it off the wall well, make a nice throw to Kingery, who has to make a nice throw to Alfaro. Alfaro has to catch and tag in the same motion. So to be able to see that unfold was really cool.

“Not an easy play at all. That was huge.”

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Jake Arrieta finally gets strong defense in win over Marlins

Jake Arrieta finally gets strong defense in win over Marlins

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MIAMI — There have been times this season when the Phillies have played poor defense behind Jake Arrieta.

This was not one of them.

Arrieta pitched seven shutout innings to lead the Phillies to a 2-0 win over the Miami Marlins on Friday night. He got the only run he needed on a second-inning RBI double from Aaron Altherr. Maikel Franco smacked his third homer in the last six games for some insurance in the top of the ninth.

In the sixth inning, Altherr had a hand in the defensive play of the game as he teamed with shortstop Scott Kingery to cut down the potential tying run at the plate.

The victory was the Phillies’ 12th in the last 16 games as they improved to 53-40 — a season-best 13 games over .500 — and maintained their first-place standing in the NL East (see story).

The Phillies are nine games into an 11-game road trip that will take them into the All-Star break. They are 6-3 on the trip with Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin slated to pitch the final two games before the break.

Arrieta improved to 7-6 and lowered his ERA to 3.23. He allowed three hits and three walks over his seven innings of work. He struck out three.

The veteran right-hander has allowed a majors-high 15 unearned runs this season, an indication of the poor defense that his mates have played behind him. 

Back on June 3, Arrieta singled out Kingery for failing to make a key play behind the pitcher in a loss at San Francisco.

In this game, Kingery came up huge on defense with a run-saving play in the sixth. Cameron Maybin had walked with one out, bringing pinch-hitter Derek Dietrich to the plate. Dietrich smoked a line drive off the top of the right-field wall. It missed being a go-ahead two-run home run by an inch or two. Altherr, who had moved from center field to right at the start of the frame, quickly retrieved the ball and fired a strike to Kingery who in turn fired a strike to catcher Jorge Alfaro to nip Maybin at the plate. Maybin did not slide and Alfaro administered a nice tag on the leg.

Altherr had started the game in center field and Trevor Plouffe got the call in right as Kapler went with all right-handed bats or switch-hitters against Miami lefty Wei-Yin Chen. Odubel Herrera and Nick Williams, both left-handed hitters, did not start. Kapler inserted Herrera in center and moved Altherr, ostensibly for defense, in the sixth inning and the move paid huge dividends.

Victor Arano and Pat Neshek finished up the shutout after Arrieta departed.

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Jake Arrieta puts Phillies on cusp of 50th win, eyes NL East title

Jake Arrieta puts Phillies on cusp of 50th win, eyes NL East title

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PITTSBURGH — The Phillies will go for their 50th win of the season on Sunday afternoon.

They didn’t notch their 50th win last season until August 31.

Think about that for a moment.

The Phillies received a strong start from Jake Arrieta, rallied for three two-out runs in the top of the seventh inning and got excellent relief work from Seranthony Dominguez and Victor Arano in beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 3-2, on Saturday afternoon (see first take).

It was the Phils’ sixth straight win and eighth in the last nine games as they improved to 49-37. They are 19-7 in one-run games. They are 6-0 against the Pirates this season and tied for the top spot in the National League East with the Atlanta Braves.

The Phillies’ window of contention has opened a year before most folks thought it would and that has left the front office trying to balance the present with the future as it seeks upgrades on the July trade market.

The players are paying attention.

“If you make a really big move you probably have to give up some prospects or maybe a major-league-ready guy that you don’t necessarily want to give up for a chance to maybe have that guy only for a couple of months and then you don’t know if you can sign them in free agency,” Arrieta said. “So it’s a tough decision and that’s why the guys in the front office have to really decide what the priority is.

“But having said that, the team that we have right now is capable of winning the division, there’s no doubt in my mind. We’ve shown flashes of it – a well-rounded starting rotation, a lineup that will scratch and claw for runs and every once in a while we’ll put up 10 or 11 runs. We’re capable of doing it with the group we have here. It wouldn’t surprise me if we did make a move, but how big of a move remains to be seen.”

Arrieta and Carlos Santana were the team’s big moves in the offseason. Both came on free-agent deals and both played significant roles in win No. 49 on Saturday. Arrieta pitched seven innings of two-run ball and kept things close until the offense got over its hangover from Friday night’s 17-5 victory and rallied for three in the seventh.

Santana was on first base via a fielder’s choice with two outs in the top of the seventh. He chugged all the way home with the Phillies’ first run on a triple to right by Nick Williams. Before Williams’ triple, Pittsburgh’s Jameson Taillon had given up just three singles. After Williams’ triple, Scott Kingery tied the game with a base hit up the middle and Jorge Alfaro followed with a double to the gap to put the Phillies ahead.

The rally could have ended at one run if Williams hadn’t made a twisting, headfirst slide into third to avoid being the third out.

“I don’t know how I did it,” Williams said. “I was just an athlete, I guess. A lot of things I do, I really can’t explain. It’s just a reaction.”

Arrieta had not won a game since May 29 and he entered this one with a 6.16 ERA in his previous six starts. He gave up a run in the first (a wild pitch and an unsuccessful infield shift hurt him there) and a solo homer in the third, but allowed just one base runner the rest of his stay. He put up a shutdown zero in the bottom of the seventh, after his mates gave him the lead.

Seranthony Dominguez got three outs in the eighth and was lifted for a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded in the ninth. Victor Arano was charged with getting the save and he did, surviving a leadoff double in the process. Over the last five games, the Phillies’ bullpen has allowed just three earned runs in 27 1/3 innings

With the potential tying run on second, Arano got two strikeouts and a fly ball in registering the tough save. He showed a power fastball and slider — and plenty of guts.

“From the get-go, I knew it was going to be a tough inning because it was a save situation,” Arano said with the help of translator Diego Ettedgui. “I knew I had to be really good. That double is part of the game. I was really confident with my pitches. I'm a confident guy. I have belief in my stuff.”

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