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Proven winner Arrieta wants to teach club

Veteran pitcher plans to hold himself, young teammates accountable
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jake Arrieta answered questions about a surprisingly long, and sometimes frustrating free-agent process Tuesday morning at Spectrum Field. He discussed his former team's journey from bottom feeder to curse breaker. He explained the drop in his fastball velocity, and why he thinks he can help the Phillies return to the postseason.

Then he made a promise.

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jake Arrieta answered questions about a surprisingly long, and sometimes frustrating free-agent process Tuesday morning at Spectrum Field. He discussed his former team's journey from bottom feeder to curse breaker. He explained the drop in his fastball velocity, and why he thinks he can help the Phillies return to the postseason.

Then he made a promise.

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"A message I want to send to not only the players, but Philadelphia in general, and the entire Phillies nation, is that what we're going to do here is we're going to promise a fight," Arrieta said at his introductory news conference. "There is no guarantee you're going to feel good or you're going to have your best stuff or you're going to get a great night's sleep the night before. But what we can promise is that we're going to have conviction, we're going to fight and we're going to win at the end of the day."

The Phillies signed Arrieta, 32, to a three-year, $75 million contract. He can opt-out of the third season, but the Phillies can void that clause if they extend his contract an additional two years. In the end, the contract could be worth as much as $135 million.

But that is for another time. Arrieta is focused on the present, turning a rebuilding team that lost 96 games last season into a team that competes for a postseason berth this season.

"I feel like we're not far away," he said. "I think a rebuild is something that is a loose term. A rebuild doesn't mean you can't win now. That's probably the same mindset that the players in this organization have now, and I'm no different. I intend to come in here and win right away. Even though we are technically in a rebuild, I think all the players would agree with me that we intend to win -- rebuild or not."

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler beamed with every word. A host of Arrieta's new teammates -- Rhys Hoskins, Carlos Santana, Maikel Franco, Hector Neris, Tommy Hunter, Cameron Rupp, Jorge Alfaro, Andrew Knapp and Scott Kingery -- listened quietly from the back of the room.

It is unusual to see players turn out like that at a news conference.

"This is going to be a pretty perfect marriage," Kapler said. "What our players need from Jake, and what Jake can bring to our clubhouse."

Of course, Arrieta must perform like the ace the Phillies expect him to be. He won the National League Cy Young Award with the Cubs in 2015, going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA. He went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA in 2016, and 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA in 2017. His fastball velocity dropped from 95.2 mph to 92.2 mph from 2015-17, which is a concern. His 24.8 percent hard-hit rate (rate of contact with 95 mph-plus exit velocities) in 2015 is the second-best rate tracked in three seasons of Statcast™. But it increased to 29.8 percent in 2016, and 32.2 percent last season, which is just under league average.

But after he posted a 4.35 ERA in 18 starts in the first half last season, he posted a 2.28 ERA in 12 starts in the second half. Perhaps he figured out something.

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"High velocity or not, I know exactly what I'm doing on the mound, and I know how to utilize my stuff to the best of my ability," Arrieta said. "That's not necessarily a tremendous concern for me. It's an opportunity to learn more about yourself, and to maybe utilize another variable in your game. If that velocity does go back to 95-96, then the league is in a lot of trouble. But I don't think that's what tells the entire story. Obviously velocity is sexy in this game, but there are a lot of great pitchers that can pitch without it."

The Phillies certainly studied Arrieta's analytics. It is why they refused to guarantee more than three seasons.

Three years, however, is a risk worth taking.

"We spent a lot of time looking into that, and obviously what you mentioned wasn't lost on us," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "But obviously we weren't only comfortable, but thrilled with this outcome."

Arrieta has been throwing bullpen sessions while he waited to sign a contract. He said he will be ready for the opening week of the season. Even if it takes him longer than that, the Phillies' rotation is vastly improved.

"I look forward to being accountable and holding my teammates accountable, and using experiences that I've had in the past, just like all these other guys will as well," Arrieta said. "And bringing all that to the forefront, and bringing that to the table, and understanding what it's going to take to go from a rebuild to a champion as soon as possible."

He later looked at his teammates in the back of the room.

"Thank you guys for being here and sharing this moment with me," he said. "It's just a cool moment, it really is. The unity is starting today and it's going to get stronger each and every day."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Philadelphia Phillies, Jake Arrieta