ST. PETERSBURG -- Although veteran starter Jacob Arrieta made just his second start for the Phillies in a 9-4 win Saturday, his impact is already being felt by a young rotation through the first two weeks of the season."He's been a focal point in the clubhouse and it's been pretty awesome
ST. PETERSBURG -- Although veteran starter Jacob Arrieta made just his second start for the Phillies in a 9-4 win Saturday, his impact is already being felt by a young rotation through the first two weeks of the season.
"He's been a focal point in the clubhouse and it's been pretty awesome to watch that unfold," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said.
Arrieta tossed 6 2/3 solid innings, allowing two earned runs while scattering seven hits to pick up his first win as a Phillie. He also walked two and struck out one.
"I felt pretty good," Arrieta said. "My timing is getting locked in. I was really good in establishing the strike zone."
The Phillies' starting pitching has been lights out through its last two trips through the rotation. Kapler feels that is due -- at least in part -- to the leadership of Arrieta, especially when it comes to Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez.
"I don't think it's a coincidence with how much preparation has gone into the success of Vinny and Nick, and I think a lot of that has to do with Jake's influence," Kapler said. "I don't think it's directly attributable, and I don't think it's the only thing, but it's difficult to ignore."
When the exaggerated defensive shifts work, Kapler can look like a genius. In Friday's game against Tampa Bay, Adeiny Hechavarria lined a sharply hit ball to the right-center gap. On any other day it would have been guaranteed extra bases. Instead, it was an easy play for Odubel Herrera, who was shaded about 20 yards away from his usual spot in center.
Earlier in the season, Kapler took some flak for playing right fielder Nick Williams too shallow in a game against New York, resulting in a ball being hit well over his head.
"Incredible positioning, when we say, 'Wow, that was really awesome positioning,' is a direct result of if that ball gets hit to that person in that spot," Kapler said. "So had that line drive been hit right at Nick, we would have said, 'That was some awesome positioning' and that's natural. Totally natural. That's baseball."
Kapler credited coaches Sam Fuld and Chris Young for being the ones that make him look smart when it comes to outfield positioning, both in pregame preparation and in-game adjustments.
"We are constantly communicating on the bench, asking, '[Is] that the right depth? Can he be a step in?'" Kapler said. "I think last night we looked out and saw how our outfielders are really deep in that very moment and sure enough, boom, we had some perfectly positioned outfielders."
We like Eick
Starter Jerad Eickhoff threw 15 pitches in a bullpen session before Saturday's game and reported no issues. The righty has been sidelined since Spring Training with a strained right lateral muscle.
"It feels really good. It feels like it's really jumping," Eickhoff said.
Eickhoff said that he expects to throw another week to 10 days of bullpen sessions before returning to the team's Spring Training complex in Clearwater, Fla., to throw live batting practice and simulated games. Eickhoff said he was optimistically shooting for a return to the mound in early May.
"I know that's me being interested in being back, but I know it might take little longer," he said.
Hunter nearing return
Veteran reliever Tommy Hunter threw to hitters on Saturday morning at the team's Spring Training complex. Hunter, who was signed as a free agent this offseason, is currently on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to March 26, with a Grade 1 right hamstring strain.
"Tommy was awesome. The cutter was incredible and he came to the ballpark with a big smile on his face," Kapler said. "He feels healthy and ready to go."
Although there were no setbacks, Kapler said the team was still considering the next step for Hunter, who will likely need another outing before being activated.
** J. Scott Butherus ** is a contributor to MLB.com based in St. Petersburg.