CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jacob Arrieta came out firing Thursday in his first start for the Phillies.
His fastball touched 95 mph in a 6-2 loss to the Tigers in a Grapefruit League game at Spectrum Field. Philadelphia's newest starter struck out the first two batters he faced before he allowed an opposite-field home run to Jose Cabrera. Arrieta scattered two more hits and one more run in the second inning, and finished the afternoon with 31 pitches.
Arrieta considered the start a success, although it seems unlikely he will be ready to pitch within the regular season's first five games or so. Arrieta signed a three-year, $75 million contract on March 12, so he missed nearly a month of camp. And while he had been throwing before he joined the Phillies, the club wants to make sure he's stretched properly.
Philadelphia has Arrieta for three years. The first week, while important, isn't everything.
"I don't think it's completely out of the question," Arrieta said about the first week. "It might not be very likely. But it could happen. [Pitching coach Rick Kranitz] and [manager Gabe Kapler] have just continued to reiterate that longevity is obviously most important vs. trying to jump out there a little premature.
"Do I think I could handle going out there? Of course. But, again, is it the smartest thing to do? Maybe not. I'm on board with what these guys intend to do. I know they have my health and the team's success over the long haul in mind. That's the most important thing moving forward. We'll probably have a better understanding of where we're going to go in three or four days."
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Arrieta struck out JaCoby Jones on three pitches to start the game, then rang up Jeimer Candelario for the second out. Arrieta's 2-1 fastball to Cabrera, though, landed over the right-field fence for a home run.
"[Cabrera]'s one of the best in the game," Arrieta said. "With the wind flying to right and a guy who can really hit the ball well to right field, it's not the best combination. It was just a slightly elevated ball, away. He put a good swing on it. Other than that, I located the ball pretty well."
Arrieta retired the first two batters he faced in the second before Christin Stewart singled and Jose Iglesias doubled to score a run.
"Iglesias fought off some really nice sinkers in," Arrieta said. "I tried to go front-door cutter close to him. It leaked back a little bit, too much of the plate. He was able to get that run in. I'm not too worried about the end result. From a feel standpoint and mechanical aspects, everything was nice."
Arrieta's fastball sat in the 92-95 range, encouraging as his velocity was a focus last season with the Cubs and before he signed with the Phillies. His fastball velocity dropped from 95.2 mph to 92.2 mph from 2015-17, according to Statcast™.
"What I'm focused on is being compact and explosive, but not putting max effort out there right now," Arrieta said. "So to have the ball coming out like that my first time out it's a good sign."
Arrieta's next start could come Tuesday in the Grapefruit League finale against the Pirates. He speculated he could throw 50 pitches in that start, then jump to 70 pitches after that. So while it is possible he could throw those 70 pitches in a big league start the first week of the season, it seems more likely the Phillies will take their time with him.
"Now that [the first start is] over," Arrieta said, "I take a deep breath and I remember what it feels like to be in a game situation. Umpires, crowd. And it felt great. I'm healthy. The ball is coming out good. To get the first one out of the way -- even though it is a little bit later -- it's a good sign."
"We were asked what we were expecting from him," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "We weren't looking for a perfect line. We were looking for health and strength and we saw that."