Jake Arrieta returning to form will be a major key for 2019 Phillies success

Arrieta had January knee surgery and looks ready
It was just over a year ago, on March 12, 2018, that free agent starting pitcher Jake Arrieta finally found a team for his services. Somewhat surprisingly, that team was the Philadelphia Phillies.
His choice was a bit of a surprise in that the Phillies were still trying to find a path back to long-term contending status. The team had not been a winner since 2011. At age 32, Arrieta was coming off a three-year stretch in which he had won both a Cy Young Award and World Series with the Chicago Cubs.
But with no other suitors willing to meet his price on a multi-year deal, Arrieta accepted the Phillies offer of a guaranteed $75 million over three seasons with two additional club option years.
The Phillies hoped that eight-year veteran could provide leadership to an otherwise young rotation as well as deliver consistently strong outings to help push the team closer to contention.
The leadership has come. The consistent strong outings came as well, but only for the first two months of the 2018 season. On May 29 of last season, Arrieta went seven shutout innings at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles as the Phillies downed the hosts by a 6-1 score.
He allowed just six hits, walked two and struck out five in raising his record to 5-2 on the year to that point. Over those first two months the right-hander allowed just a .230 batting average against. He yielded 48 hits over 58.1 innings with a 40/19 K:BB ratio and had given up just two home runs over his first 10 starts in a Phillies uniform.
But trouble suddenly developed in June. He suffered losses in four of his five outings and produced a frightening 6.66 ERA while surrendering seven long balls. Arrieta bounced back in July, when he pitched to a 2.80 ERA and .238 BAA across six starts. He went 4-0 in that stretch and allowed just two balls to leave the yard.
His August began with a gem in the Arizona desert. Arrieta went eight shutout innings against the host Diamondbacks, allowing just three hits and two walks. Unfortunately, young closer Seranthony Dominguez came on and blew a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the 9th of a game that the Phillies would ultimately lose in 14 innings.
Arrieta was rocked in San Diego six days later but recovered with a strong outing at home against the Mets on August 18. However, the offense let him down in that one for a 3-1 defeat. That was the first of eight losses in ten games that would drop the Phillies from a neck-and-neck battle with the Atlanta Braves at the top of the NL East standings to 4.5 games out.
By the end of the season it would grow to a 10-game deficit, and the pitching of Arrieta was partially to blame. Over his final seven starts beginning on August 24 he went just 1-3 with a 6.82 ERA, allowing 40 hits including nine homers over 34.1 innings.

We would later learn that Arrieta had suffered an injury to his left knee, possibly in June of last year or earlier when his results first began to deteriorate. He pitched through discomfort the rest of the way and was still trying to work through it when, during a workout this off-season, something popped. It turns out that he had a torn meniscus.
I was able to pitch pretty effectively and it didn’t bother me too much in between starts,” Arrieta said per Todd Zolecki of MLB.com after undergoing surgery in January of this year. “Then in the offseason training, just doing some routine stuff, moving around a little bit, I came up out of the seated position and there were a couple pops. It didn’t feel right.
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,” manager Gabe Kapler said per Zolecki. “My understanding was that it was an injury that he sustained during one of his workouts. … Obviously, Jake knows his body very well and he was feeling it last season.
Now as they prepare to open the most anticipated season for the team and its fans in eight years, Arrieta has a key role to play in the rotation once again. With the knee fixed it is hoped that he can put together a complete season closer to his Cubs years.
Arrieta wrapped up his and the Phillies spring training preparations with a strong Grapefruit League outing on Monday afternoon. Over six strong innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in Clearwater he struck out eight and walked no one while allowing two earned runs on six hits.
Of course I think we’re a playoff team,” Arrieta said following that outing per Tom Housenick for The Intelligencer. “Look at our team last year. We were borderline. We had our chances, but some youth, some inexperience, maybe some hangover from some tough series carried over to the next (series) instead of the cliché of turning the page quick. … This group is much better suited to take on that task and deal with adversity, process it and move forward in a positive way…
With the additions of Bryce HarperJ.T. RealmutoJean Segura and Andrew McCutchen, the Phillies lineup is anything but “borderline” now. If what we saw on Monday is any indication of what we’re going to get most of this coming season from Arrieta on the mound, that will help to ensure that there is no collapse over the final month this time around.
He takes the mound for the first time next Sunday night in front of a packed house against the defending NL East champion Atlanta Braves in a nationally televised game. It will be the first of hopefully some 35-40 starts for Arrieta in the coming season…and postseason.
Originally published at Phillies Nation as Phillies need the real Jake Arrieta to help lead 2019 rotation

Drew Anderson, Jerad Eickhoff provide back-end Phillies rotation insurance

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Zach Eflin has had a solid spring at back of Phillies rotation

As the club’s decision-makers have whittled away at the final Opening Day roster decisions over the last week or so, both the starting lineup and starting pitching rotation have solidified.

The regular starting lineup will see Rhys HoskinsCesar HernandezJean Segura and Maikel Franco around the infield. Andrew McCutchenOdubel Herrera and Bryce Harper will start in the outfield. Behind the dish, J.T. Realmuto will see most of the action.
On the mound it will be Aaron NolaNick PivettaJake ArrietaVince Velasquez and Zach Eflin in the starting rotation. Those are the same five starting pitchers who made 150 of the 162 starts for the team a year ago.
The club should feel confident in the first three of those arms. Nola was a 2018 NL Cy Young Award finalist and is one of the top young pitchers in the game today. Arrieta is a grizzled veteran with a Cy Young already in his trophy case. Pivetta is a strikeout pitcher who is widely considered as one of Major League Baseball’s leading breakout candidates.
The spotlight will be on the two pitchers at the back of that rotation. How Velasquez and Eflin pitch could go a long way towards determining whether this vastly improved Phillies squad can actually contend for the National League East Division crown or an NL Wildcard postseason position.
Eflin had a solid spring. He led the club with 20.1 innings pitched down in Florida, delivering a 1.08 WHIP and .224 batting average against over five starts. Eflin surrendered just 17 hits and produced an 18/5 K:BB ratio.
Velasquez’ performance was less inspiring. He allowed nine earned runs and 11 hits over 6.1 innings across just three starts. Hitters produced a .379 batting average against him despite the fact that Velasquez remained overpowering at times, evidenced by his 15 strikeouts.
There has always been a vocal minority of Phillies followers who have believed that Velasquez would best thrive in a bullpen role. His strikeout stuff could eventually even thrive in the closer role. However, the Phillies are just not ready to give up on his potential as a starting pitcher – yet.
What we did learn during spring training was that, should Velasquez continue to struggle or injuries strike the others, the Phillies have what appear to be reasonable options.
Jerad Eickhoff was re-assigned to the minor leagues. He will open in the rotation for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Eickhoff proved this spring that he was fully recovered from a battle with carpal tunnel syndrome. He held batters to a .206 BAA over nine innings and now needs to stretch himself out, building up innings after tossing just 5.1 last year.
Also at Lehigh Valley will be 25-year-old Drew Anderson, who was perhaps the breakthrough performer here in Clearwater. Anderson allowed just six hits over 12.2 innings with a 12/2 K:BB ratio while holding opposing hitters to a .143 BAA and registering a 0.71 ERA and 0.63 WHIP.
Anderson made 19 solid starts at Triple-A a year ago, and also contributed five appearances with the Phillies, including his lone big-league start July 8 at Pittsburgh.
Others who could get the call for a spot/emergency start at some point depending on when it might be needed and their own availability are right-hander Enyel De Los Santos and left-hander Ranger Suarez, each of whom made their Phillies and Major League Baseball debut a year ago under similar circumstances.
With expectations elevated this year, expect that the Phillies will have little patience with Velasquez. He probably has at least the month of April in the rotation. But if he doesn’t produce, it won’t be long before either Eickhoff or Anderson is replacing him. Both showed over the past month that they are ready for that shot.

First two home runs from Bryce Harper lead Phillies to spring romp

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Bryce Harper homers twice in Grapefruit League victory

It has happened 184 times over his first seven regular seasons in Major League Baseball and another five times in the postseason. There were even a few launched during spring training. But all of those happened in another uniform.

This afternoon for the first time as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, Bryce Harper enjoyed the feeling of blasting a home run. In fact, he enjoyed it so much that he decided to do it again, crushing a sixth-inning blast as well.
The first came during his first plate appearance of the afternoon at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Florida with one out and Andrew McCutchen at first base.
As Harper walked to the plate in the bottom of the 1st inning, Phillies announcer Ben Davis told his broadcasting partner Gregg Murphy that “he is a tick away” and noted that Harper had “a few really, really good swings yesterday” in one of the more prescient calls of the former catcher’s career as a color analyst.
Harper wasted little time. Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Sam Gaviglio tried to groove an 88 mph fastball for strike one, and the Phillies right fielder unloaded, ripping the ball out and over the right field wall.
The home crowd roared and rose to their feet as the ball sailed out. They remained on their feet as Harper rounded the bases for the first time as a member of the ball club that he will call his baseball home for the rest of his career.
After celebrating with a high-five at home plate with McCutchen, Harper trotted back to the home dugout and acknowledged the roaring fans behind home plate with a wave.
Harper’s blast touched off a massive Phillies power display on the day which would result in a 13-6 victory. In addition to Harper’s pair, other Phillies long balls on the day came off the bats of McCutchen, Gift Ngoepe, and one from each of the club’s two catchers, J.T. Realmuto and Andrew Knapp.
In the bottom of the 6th, young left-hander Thomas Pannone backed Harper off the plate with a 1-1 curve ball. Undeterred, Harper stepped right back in and crushed a 91 mph fastball way out over the back fence in right-center field.

It was a week ago tomorrow against these same Toronto Blue Jays that a fastball to the ankle had everyone fearing for Harper’s season. One week from today the Phillies will open that 2019 regular season at Citizens Bank Park against the Atlanta Braves. I think we can say after today’s performance that Harper will be there and will be ready to go.
Originally published at Phillies Nation as Bryce Harper rips first home runs in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform

Chase Utley to join the broadcasting ranks during first season in retirement

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Officially retired as a player, Utley will remain involved in the game

The ball player who grew to be known around Phillies Nation as ‘The Man’ appeared in his final big-league game on September 30, 2018. Stepping to the plate as a pinch-hitter for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Utley struck out in his final plate appearance after 16 seasons in Major League Baseball.

Over parts of 13 years with the Phillies, Utley had become a heroic fan favorite. He banged out 233 home runs, drove in 916 runs, and crossed the plate with a run scored 949 times. He was a six-time National League All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and finished among the top 15 in NL MVP voting for five straight years.
Nearly seven years after helping the Phillies to win the 2008 World Series, Utley was traded out to his native California to play for the Dodgers. He would finish up his playing career in Los Angeles, getting back to the playoffs in four straight seasons but never winning another championship ring.
The Phillies announced months ago that Utley would join former teammates Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard in being officially honored by the team for which they played their greatest baseball.
At what is now a sold-out June 21st game against the division-rival Miami Marlins the Phillies will hold “Chase Utley Retirement Night” with a number of special events. Those will include a pre-game highlight package and a bobble figurine giveaway as Utley officially retires from baseball as a member of the Phillies organization.
However, just when it seemed as if he might ride off into the sunset, it turns out that Utley will not be away from the game after all during the coming season.

Chase Utley will be joining our @SportsNetLA crew as a studio analyst on select broadcasts in 2019. Welcome to the club, Chase!

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SportsNet LA has announced that Utley will join their network as a studio analyst for select television broadcasts during the 2019 Dodgers season.
In a quick piece on Wednesday, Grey Papke at Larry Brown Sports captured the reasoning behind the hire well: “Though he will likely always be best known for his tenure with the Philadelphia Phillies, Utley carved himself out a nice niche in Los Angeles in a little over three years there. Though he didn’t put up big numbers, he was valued as a leader and a winner, and he clearly knows a thing or two about the sport.
With the famed infield trio of Howard, Utley and Rollins all retiring as members of the Phillies this year it will be only a matter of time before they are each honored with another special night when they are honored with a plaque on the Phillies Wall of Fame. That won’t come until some time in the early-2020’s.

Even though he will be commenting on another organization, I’m sure that I can speak for all of Phillies Nation in wishing ‘The Man’ well in his latest career venture.

Join Phillies Nation in fan polling for Wall of Fame ‘March Madness’

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Manuel, Thome, Carlton (L-R) are part of March Madness

The calendar showing that it is the third week in March can mean only one thing. Okay, two. Alright, alright, at least three things. The first thing is that Spring has arrived! It was a long, cold winter. But now it’s finally over. Soon flowers will begin to bloom and grass will start to grow again.

The other two big things about this time of year involve the sports world. For baseball fans, spring training is winding to a close. The Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues have just days remaining in their schedules.
For fans of college basketball and many sports fans who barely follow the game at any other time of year this is “March Madness” time. The excitement and drama of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament is unfolding.
Here at Phillies Nation we decided to run our own “March Madness” involving our favorite ball club. As subject matter we chose the Wall of Famers, those 40 individuals who have been honored to this point with a plaque at Citizens Bank Park.

Our tournament is being run at our Twitter feed: @PhilliesNation. If you aren’t following, fix that right away. If you are, head on over and be sure to follow regularly over the next week as we poll followers for their selections.
Phillies Nation “March Madness” began with a Play-in showdown between 1960’s-70’s infielder and later a coach with the team, Tony Taylor, facing off against 1950’s ‘Whiz Kids’ shortstop Granny Hamner. The popular Taylor took an early lead in voting and coasted to victory by 61%-39% of the 157 followers who cast a vote.

PHILLIES NATION * WALL OF FAME * MARCH MADNESS
Okay, with time running out Tony Taylor holds a comfortable Play-In Poll lead on Granny Hamner and will advance to our Opening Round. Two four-player polls. Winners later today battle to enter the Round of 32. Vote now!

See Phillies Nation’s other Tweets

That moved Taylor into one of two four-man Opening Round match-ups. Taylor was placed in a tough grouping: Sam Thompson, a Baseball Hall of Famer and 19th century star; 1920’s star outfielder Cy Williams; 1950’s ‘Whiz Kids’ third baseman Willie Jones.
The other four-man Opening Round grouping included 1960’s all-star Johnny Callison; star outfielder Gavvy Cravath of the 1915 NL pennant-winners and runner-up for the 1913 NL MVP; 1950’s star pitcher Curt Simmons who won 193 big-league games including 17 with the ‘Whiz Kids’ in 1950; Pat Gillick, the general manager of the 2008 World Series champions.

Taylor emerged victorious once again, winning his group with 42% of the 130 votes cast. Williams (28%), Thompson (18%) and Jones (12%) rounded out the group. Gillick was a somewhat surprising easy winner of his group, drawing 59% of 199 votes cast. Callison (24%), Simmons (15%) and Cravath (2%) rounded out that group.
Those results have moved Gillick and Taylor into a mano-a-mano Opening Round Finals vote which will conclude at 10am on Thursday morning. The winner of that vote will move into a Round-of-32 in which each of the others has already been ranked 1-31.
Head over to our Twitter feed and vote in the Gillick-Taylor Opening Round Finals poll now. While there you can enjoy numerous informative articles on the ball club. Look for the polling results on Thursday morning, which will be followed in the afternoon by the announcement of those Round-of-32 matches. Keep coming back to vote each round.

Congratulations to Bobby Abreu, who was named today as the 2019 Phillies Wall of Fame honoree. That announcement came after our tournament had been seeded and gotten underway, so Bobby is not part of the voting. Stop by the Phillies Nation feed at Twitter and join in our Wall of Fame March Madness today.