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'Really hot' J.T., healthy Arrieta lead the way

@ToddZolecki
August 8, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- It might seem like J.T. Realmuto is the Phillies’ only player headed to free agency this offseason, if you just hear the “Sign J.T.!” chants behind Ashburn Alley at Citizens Bank Park and notice Bryce Harper’s check-signing gesture following Realmuto's home runs. But there are others. Realmuto and

PHILADELPHIA -- It might seem like J.T. Realmuto is the Phillies’ only player headed to free agency this offseason, if you just hear the “Sign J.T.!” chants behind Ashburn Alley at Citizens Bank Park and notice Bryce Harper’s check-signing gesture following Realmuto's home runs.

But there are others. Realmuto and folks like Jay Bruce and Jake Arrieta came up big in Saturday night’s 5-0 victory over the Braves at Citizens Bank Park, moving the Phillies (4-4) to .500.

Box score

Realmuto smashed a solo shot to left field in the fourth inning to hand the Phillies a 1-0 lead. He is batting .333 (9-for-27) with four home runs, nine RBIs and a 1.178 OPS this season.

“That’s J.T., man,” Harper said. “He’s out there with a vengeance right now. He’s going about it the right way. He’s catching for us, throwing guys out, just being J.T. pretty much. He’s doing a great job out there for us and being a game-changer really, lengthening our lineup, and when one of us isn’t hitting, it’s good to see another guy hitting and picking it up for all of us.”

So, is that signing-the-check thing what we think it is?

“I think it’s self-explanatory,” Harper said. “Come on, now.”

He laughed.

“I mean, just joking around,” Harper said. “It’s fun. Just trying to lighten it up a little bit.”

Bruce, who is in the final season of a three-year deal, followed Realmuto’s blast with a three-run home run to right-center field just three batters later to make it 4-0. Bruce, who also doubled, is batting .300 (6-for-20) with two home runs, five RBIs and a 1.191 OPS. Bruce has started five games this season -- three in left field and two as the designated hitter. It has kept him sharp.

“I feel like, when I’m healthy and able to play, I make the team better,” Bruce said.

Arrieta, who is in the final year of a three-year contract, had a strong performance against a talented Braves lineup. He allowed three hits and one walk in six scoreless innings. He struck out six. It is his first start of six or more scoreless innings since an eight-inning scoreless effort on Aug 6., 2018, in Arizona. Arrieta struck out five of seven Atlanta batters at one point, including two swings and misses on cutters and one swing and miss on a changeup.

Everybody knows what the Phillies have in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. Everybody in the organization hoped that Arrieta could return to form this season to give the Phils a solid trio at the top of the rotation. Arrieta spent much of his first two seasons with the Phillies battling injuries. He had a left knee issue in 2018 that required surgery. He pitched with a bone spur in his right elbow in '19, which required surgery last August.

He said he is finally healthy.

“Now I have the ability to throw my breaking balls with more effect,” Arrieta said. “Everything's coming out of my hand a little bit more crisp, especially the command glove-side and being able to move the sinker in -- especially [against] right-handed hitters -- at will. That ability is there, so I have more weapons at my disposal that I didn't necessarily have in the last year or two. So, you know, that's a good sign for us.”

Arrieta got some help late. Harper made an impressive diving catch in right field in the fifth. Harper covered 56 feet in only 3.7 seconds. It had a catch probability of 35 percent, according to Statcast. Arrieta had runners on first and second with one out in the sixth, when Dansby Swanson lined out to Didi Gregorius, who signed a one-year deal with the Phillies in December. Gregorius quickly fired a throw to Scott Kingery at second base to turn a rally-killing double play.

“I thought he threw the crap out of it,” Harper said. “I mean, his backdoor sinker. I haven’t seen 93 [mph] from him in a couple years. If he’s throwing that backdoor sinker and he’s throwing off that with the cutter, he’s very tough. I think when he was really, really good, especially in 2015, he was doing that. He was coming inside a little bit, but also getting under the hands. He’s just throwing really well right now. He’s healthy. That’s the biggest thing.”

It should be mentioned that Phillies’ relievers José Álvarez, Tommy Hunter and Deolis Guerra allowed one hit in three scoreless innings. Hunter’s sinker averaged 93.7 mph after averaging 91.5 mph in his first three appearances.

There were encouraging signs everywhere, but Realmuto’s latest homer put the Phillies out front.

“I hope J.T. stays really hot for three months,” manager Joe Girardi said.

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