LAKELAND, Fla. - There was a birthday cake waiting Friday afternoon in the visitors clubhouse for Jake Arrietta, who celebrated his 34th birthday by pitching the first four innings of a 9-0 Grapefruit League win over the Tigers.
Arrieta, more than four years older than the next oldest starter, is the elder statesman of the Phillies rotation. He has a Cy Young Award and a World Series ring. He signed a $75 million contract, pitched in an All-Star Game, and threw two no-hitters. His voice carries weight in the clubhouse.
And he’s been more than willing to offer advice this spring to the young pitchers vying for the final spots in the starting rotation.
“I talk to all of them. I talk to all of them individually, we talk as a group, we all hang out,” Arrieta said. “There’s no hard feelings toward any of those guys in that group. They understand what it is. You have to take it for what it is. If you allow emotions to be involved, that’s going to detract from their ability to go out and perform the best that they can.”
The Phillies are looking this spring at Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, and Ranger Suarez for the final two spots in the rotation. Eflin will pitch Saturday in a simulated game and appears to have a lock on the No. 4 spot.
The competition for the No. 5 spot will kick into high gear this weekend when Suarez starts Saturday against Boston and Velasquez faces Toronto on Sunday. Both have pitched well through their first two Grapefruit League games.
“I was in a situation in Baltimore with Tommy Hunter, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Zack Britton,” said Arrieta, who began his career with the Orioles before moving to the Cubs. “We were all big prospects and we were all playing together, sometimes in triple A and sometimes in the big leagues. But we all liked each other. We liked each other a lot. I would’ve rather gone to triple A than root against any of those guys. I think if that’s the mindset that these guys carry, it’s going to better all of them in the long run.”
“Whether it means battling for a spot this year and throwing innings out of the bullpen. In the future and as they progress throughout their career, having that mindset of pulling for whoever it is and trying to be a group versus dividing themselves, that’s going to pay dividends not only this season but throughout their career.”
Arrieta did not allow a hit in four innings, but he did walk four batters. He threw 60 pitches, half of which were strikes. It was Arrieta’s second Grapefruit League start; his last start was moved to the back fields of the Carpenter Complex. He remains on track to be ready for the season, but there’s still some fine-tuning to be done in camp.
“Delivery’s getting there,” Arrieta said. “I talked to Bryan Price at length about my direction out of the stretch. Everything was really good and crisp out of the windup and then out of the stretch he said it appeared that I’m creating -- and I feel it -- more shoulder tilt."
“It’s kind of leading to pulling some breaking balls out of the strike zone and not really giving them a chance, so we talked about kind of in a couple days working solely out of the stretch and limiting that shoulder rotation,” he added.
"Because that’s what’s really going to help me bring those breaking balls along in these next few weeks of spring and to get ready for the season. Sink is good. The rotation on everything is good. I just have to give it more of a shot in the strike zone.”
Nick Martini, in camp competing for a bench job, hit an RBI single in the seventh and homered in the eighth. Abrahan Gutierrez, a minor-league catcher, hit a grand slam earlier in the eighth.
Martini is 4-for-11 this spring with two homers, two strikeouts, and three walks.
The Phillies claimed Martini off waivers in January but he was designated for assignment just before camp began when the team acquired Kyle Garlick. Martini returned to the Phillies on a minor-league deal and joins Garlick and Nick Williams in the race for a reserve outfield role. Garlick and Williams are already on the 40-man roster.
“His at-bats have been great all spring long,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He grinds out at-bats. It’s a professional at-bat every time he goes out there.”