PHILADELPHIA -- Some Phillies fans might have missed a comment that Jake Arrieta made last Friday as he celebrated his 100th career win in Miami.
“I know I can still be elite,” he said.
Arrieta put together another strong performance in Wednesday afternoon’s 3-2 victory over the Mets at Citizens Bank Park, clinching the three-game series and improving the first-place Phillies to 11-6. He allowed six hits and two runs in eight-plus innings. Arrieta has pitched seven or more innings in three consecutive starts, making him and Texas’ Mike Minor the only two pitchers in baseball to pitch at least seven innings at least three times this season.
“It certainly seems like he's taken the reins and taking the lead for our pitching staff right now,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “I think it starts with his mindset. I think he understands that everybody in the clubhouse is looking to him for leadership, and I think that starts with his performance on the mound. I think he recognizes that, and he's kind of taking the bull by the horns.”
The Phillies’ rotation has been in a state of flux this month, so Arrieta’s production has been needed. Aaron Nola has a 7.45 ERA in four starts. The team just optioned Nick Pivetta, who had an 8.35 ERA in four starts, to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Zach Eflin pitched well in his first two outings, before the Marlins ambushed him for 10 hits and six runs in four innings Saturday. Vince Velasquez has been solid in two starts, but inconsistency has plagued him in the past.
Arrieta has been old reliable.
The Phillies scored a run in the second on a Maikel Franco sacrifice fly, then Scott Kingery hit a solo homer in the fifth and Cesar Hernandez added a solo shot of his own in the sixth to take a 3-0 lead. Arrieta continued to deal from there. He induced three inning-ending double plays, including one each in the seventh and eighth innings.
“His ball had crazy movement and he was keeping hitters off balance and getting weak contact,” Kingery said.
Arrieta started the ninth looking for his first complete game since he threw a no-hitter against the Reds on April 21, 2016, but after Pete Alonso hit a ball back at him for a base hit, the Phillies’ bullpen took over.
“When I’m right, you’re going to see a lot of balls on the ground,” Arrieta said. “Action down, trying to get the ball to sink as much as possible vs. moving laterally. And that’s what it was doing. The timing of my delivery right now is really good. 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.”
Arreita’s changeup is moving more than last season, according to Statcast data. It has the same vertical movement, but it is moving nearly five inches more horizontally.
“It was a pitch for me last year that started outside of the strike zone and guys just laid off it,” Arrieta said. “But now I’m starting to throw it strike to ball. It’s starting in the zone then finishing outside the zone, and I’m able to still get a lot of swings on that.”
“It was one of the top two or three performances I've seen from Arrieta since he's been a Phillie,” Kapler said. “It was really impressive. He was off barrels. He threw some changeups that didn't get swings that were really good. The ball was moving well horizontally. He was just off the barrel the whole game, inducing ground ball after ground ball, pitching efficiently and with confidence. Really strong performance.”