CHICAGO - Jake Arrieta’s first five starts of the season were enough to make the Phillies wince as he looked in April like the pitcher the Phillies hoped they were signing three years ago when they gave him $75 million.
But when the Phillies face Arrieta on Tuesday night, he’ll be pitching to keep his place in the Cubs’ rotation.
Arrieta started the season with a 2.57 ERA in his first five starts after returning to Chicago on a one-year deal worth $6 million. Since then, the right-hander has a 7.46 ERA in 11 starts and his rotation job was called into question last week when he was spotted a seven-run first-inning lead but recorded just five outs against Milwaukee.
The Cubs could bump Arrieta from the rotation, move him to the bullpen, or perhaps even release him if his struggles continue.
In three seasons with the Phillies, Arrieta’s ERA (4.36) was slightly below-league average and his final two seasons were both cut short by injuries. Arrieta won a Cy Young with the Cubs, but never found that form in Philadelphia. He had a 5.08 ERA in nine starts last season before a strained hamstring shut him down in September.
Arrieta signed with the Cubs at the start of spring training to return to the team he helped win their first World Series in 86 years. Tuesday night’s game could determine how much longer that reunion lasts.
Another new closer?
The Jose Alvarado Experience in the ninth inning may have been short-lived as Joe Girardi said before Tuesday’s game that Ranger Suarez would be his option in a save situation.
Suarez is not yet officially the team’s closer, but it’s trending that way after he earned his first career save on Sunday.
“I just think it’s his ability to make pitches,” the Phillies manager said. “He’s been able to stay away from hard contact. He keeps the ball on the ground. He doesn’t walk anyone. He fields his position. He holds runners. He just does a lot of things right.”
Suarez’s groundball rate (65.4%) is the sixth-highest among all relievers and his walk-rate (6.7%) is much improved from Alvarado, who has the highest walk-rate (19.1%) among all relievers. But it takes more than just stuff to handle the ninth inning, right?
“He has no heartbeat, which I think is good,” Girardi said.
Héctor Neris, the closer before Alvarado usurped him, was one pitch away from an immaculate inning - three strikeouts on nine pitches - before he allowed six runs on Sunday.
“He threw eight strikes and the ninth pitch was in the box,” Girardi said. “The eighth pitch was not in the box so I’m not blaming the umpire. Then it fell apart.”
Now the Phillies have to find a way to get Neris back together. Since June 1, Neris has allowed 16 runs, 13 of which are earned, over 10 appearances. The Phillies are thin on relief help, which makes it imperative that they find a way for Neris to contribute even if he’s not pitching the ninth.
“He needs something good to happen,” Girardi said. “You get the little ground ball that we’re not able to get the out on that doesn’t leave the infield and then it snowballs. ... I’m going to look for spots to get him.”
Andrew McCutchen started Monday night after leaving Sunday’s game with tightness in his oblique. ... Brandon Kintzler did not pitch over the weekend after being activated from the injured list. Girardi said the reliever was dizzy on Sunday but was OK on Monday. ... Sam Coonrod (forearm tendonitis) is with the team in Chicago and continuing a throwing progression. The reliever is not yet throwing off a mound. ... Aaron Nola will start Tuesday against Arrieta.