One-time World Series champion, Cy Young and Silver Slugger awards winner, and All-Star RHP Jake Arrieta had anything but the season most expected to him have in 2018, the first year of a three-year, $75 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.
The nine-year veteran — who will turn 33 on March 6 — posted a career-worst 11 losses and 3.96 ERA (minimum 25 appearances). However, Arrieta's underwhelming stats were at times forgotten with signs of his former perennial Cy Young Award candidate self.
In May, Arrieta's 0.90 ERA over five starts was his first sub-1.00 ERA within a calendar month since Sept. 2015 (0.45 ERA). The last Phillie to accomplish such feat was Cliff Lee in August 2011, when he allowed just two runs in 39 2/3 frames, also a 0.45 ERA. Two months later, July, Arrieta went 4-0 with a 2.80 ERA through six starts.
Excluding those two months, however, the right-hander went 4-10 with a 5.20 ERA in his other 20 starts. Arrieta hopes to be more consistent, and overall a more effective pitcher in 2019. He can be aided with a healthy left meniscus; on Thursday, he told reporters he tore it last June and underwent surgery last month.
Despite the set-back, Arrieta threw off the mound again on Friday and said he is on the same throwing progression as everyone else. "I’ve kind of talked about spring outings already with [Pitching Coach Chris Young], [Gabe Kapler] and the rest of the guys. I really don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be on schedule just like I would with a normal spring training," Arrieta said.
Arrieta said that last season, he made the injury "work the best" he could and that it "wasn't enough" to keep him off the mound. Arrieta said his surgery's timing — being in January — "was really nice," and that if it happened "now or two weeks ago," he might have had a setback.
"But since that procedure is pretty minimal — instead of repairing the meniscus, they just clean out the tear. Since that's the case, we're in a good position," Arrieta said.
Arrieta said he made the knee situation "work the best I could" during the season. He believes the timing of the surgery was fortuitous: pic.twitter.com/w4nQmN3VBm— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) February 14, 2019
Kapler said that he and the coaches' room all "strongly believe" that Arrieta has made delivery and mechanics changes that have "already paid dividends" in his bullpen sessions. The Phillies were not aware that Arrieta had suffered the injury, according to the Phillies manager.
"Jake made an adjustment in his bullpen about halfway through, where he really started to “dot up” and the ball really comes out of his hands beautiful," Kapler said. "Obviously, a healthier individual is going to produce better results. We’ve pretty bullish on the outcome in 2019 for Jake Arrieta.”
Arrieta said his knee pain is "completely eliminated" now, and that it just feels like his right knee. "Not having [uncomfortable pops] anymore is really nice. To not have to worry if it's going to flare up or not ... it's a huge boost for me and obviously for the team," Arrieta said.
Phillies starter Jake Arrieta has a 6.64 ERA since August 12th (8 starts)— Jeff Skversky 6abc (@JeffSkversky) September 22, 2018
Today facing elimination Arrieta had the shortest outing of his career - 2 innings = 4 ER@6abc #JakeArrieta #Phillies pic.twitter.com/5RrQgwh3Vs
Having won the World Series with the young, postseason inexperienced Chicago Cubs in 2016, Arrieta believes there is "no question" the Phillies are a team that too can win in October:
"Look what we did last year. It got away from us toward the end of the year; a lot of young guys in the clubhouse. First-year guys, second-year guys ... have never been in first place in the division. Now, we have all these guy that have been there, added guys like [Andrew] McCutchen and [David] Robertson with postseason pedigree and a lot of experience.
We can bridge that gap a lot sooner than a lot of people probably thought. The timeline was pushed forward. A lot of people didn’t expect us to do what we did last year; being able to move that progression up a year, maybe two years sooner is really neat to see. I’ve been part of it once, and look forward to doing it again with this group of guys."
Given his rehab process, Arrieta's Grapefruit League workload is likely to be limited, but he is expected to be ready for his first regular season start. Arrieta posted a 3.96 ERA and 138/57 K/BB ratio spanning 172 2/3 innings last season. With a healthier Arrieta, those numbers are expected to improve in his second season with red pinstripes.