'100 percent healthy' Arrieta ready to help Phils

February 12th, 2020

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- might be the most important pitcher in Phillies camp this spring.

Sure, the Phillies need and to lead the top of the rotation. Yes, they need some combination of , and to pitch competently at the bottom of it. The team has bullpen questions, too. But Arrieta is the swing man in the middle of everything. The Phils need him to pitch to expectations entering the final season of a three-year, $75 million contract, if they hope to tangle with the Nationals, Braves and Mets in the National League East.

“Well, I'm 100 percent healthy, so that's nice,” Arrieta said Wednesday at Spectrum Field.

Arrieta pitched through injuries the first two years of his contract. He had a left knee issue in 2018, which required surgery early last year. Arrieta pitched with a bone spur in his right elbow in 2019, which ended his season early and required surgery. He went 18-19 with a 4.26 ERA in 55 starts over the past two seasons, and he posted a 3.8 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference.

Ten pitchers have a higher average annual contract than Arrieta’s $25 million in 2020, according to The Athletic. Most of those pitchers have pitched well the past two seasons: Jacob deGrom (16.9 WAR), Max Scherzer (14.5), Justin Verlander (14.0), Gerrit Cole (12.1), Zack Greinke (9.7), Chris Sale (9.2), Stephen Strasburg (8.9), Clayton Kershaw (6.8), David Price (6.2) and Jon Lester (4.7). It would be a godsend for the Phillies to have Arrieta return to form -- even to the 2.9 WAR he posted in ’18.

It would be nice to show fans what he can do when he is healthy, right?

“Yeah, look,” Arrieta said, “I’m trying to do the best I can each and every day, regardless of injury or no injury, performing well or not, I’m doing everything I can to control the way I prepare and take care of myself to the best of my ability. If I’m able to do that and stay healthy, the performances will be good.”

It will take pressure off the rest of the rotation, too. The group is thin beyond the top six of Nola, Wheeler, Arrieta, Eflin, Velasquez and Pivetta. Ranger Suárez, Cole Irvin and Enyel De Los Santos are in camp. Top pitching prospect Spencer Howard could push for a big-league promotion by the summer, but that remains to be seen. The Phils did not sign a veteran starter this offseason, even on a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. They still could. Pitchers like Jason Vargas, Clay Buchholz and Collin McHugh remain unsigned.

Phillies manager Joe Girardi said he believes there is enough depth to compete.

“Oh, I do,” he said. “But in saying that, you never have enough starters. You could have 10 and you'd want 11. You could have 11 and you'd want 12. You could have 22 and it's still not enough. I mean, it's the way that an organization thinks. It's the way that a manager thinks. But I think that we have a really good number of starting pitchers here that are going to compete for the spots 4-5 and then some of those guys are going to go to the bullpen. If we have to make a switch at some point, I believe that there's depth there and guys that have Major League experience depth. It's our job to help them reach their potential.”

Arrieta stopped throwing his cutter late last season because of the pain in his elbow. He considered his curveball to be less effective, too.

Maybe those things will be better this year.

“When you go out there with just a fastball and a changeup -- and the changeup's really not even that good at the time -- it's hard to get outs,” Arrieta said. “It's hard to pitch two times through the order and three times through the order was almost undoable. But not having that issue anymore and being able to feel free and easy and not be restricted with my elbow is going to be really good for me.”

And maybe good for the Phillies.

“This year, I believe will be different,” Arrieta said. “Everybody in here does.”