With his 97th pitch of the game Tuesday night, Jake Arrieta drilled a batter in the right thigh before grabbing his own.
Sympathy pain? Hardly.
Arrieta’s last pitch as a member of the Phillies? Potentially.
But rather than getting ahead of ourselves, let’s say this: As Arrieta limped off the mound at Citizens Bank Park with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning of a 4-1 victory over the New York Mets that was powered by Didi Gregorius' two-run homer, it sure looked as though the Phillies lost their third starting pitcher to an injury in the last six days.
Arrieta tried to downplay it. He said he suffered a similar hamstring injury late in the 2017 season with the Chicago Cubs and came back from it. He guessed, based on that experience and input from Phillies team doctor Steven Cohen and athletic trainer Paul Buchheit, that this is a mild strain, maybe a Grade 1, even though he said the pain “felt like I got shot.”
And he vowed, wishfully perhaps, to pitch again this season.
“I’ll be back for the playoffs. There’s no question in my mind about that,” Arrieta said. “I think I can be back sooner than that.”
Arrieta missed two starts in 2017, and he described this as “almost like a flashback.” He claimed his absence then was prolonged because he tried to throw a bullpen session too soon, and said he will be smarter this time. But he has only two starts left this year. The chances of him returning before the end of the regular season aren’t great.
With 13 games left — in only 11 days —- the list of healthy Phillies starters is down to Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez. Zack Wheeler will try to pitch Wednesday night with a mangled nail on his right middle finger, but indications are that he might be compromised.
Beyond that? If Arrieta joins rookie Spencer Howard (right shoulder stiffness) on the shelf, the Phillies likely will have to dig deep into their inventory at the Lehigh Valley training site. As it was, they were probably going to have to use the bullpen for a start or two in a pair of doubleheaders Friday at home against the Toronto Blue Jays and next Tuesday in Washington.
“Man, I’m just going to focus on tomorrow," manager Joe Girardi said. “I think it’s easier because we’ve lost some starters possibly. It’s just easier to focus on tomorrow. But it will be a challenge, definitely.”
The Phillies won’t get any mercy. Not from the Mets, who lost starters Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman before the season began. Not from the Washington Nationals, who had co-ace Stephen Strasburg go down to season-ending surgery. Certainly not from the division-leading Atlanta Braves, who have been without Mike Soroka, Cole Hamels and Max Fried for stretches.
But the options are dwindling for Girardi and pitching coach Bryan Price, which is why the job done by Arrieta’s relief — rookie lefty JoJo Romero for six outs, Tommy Hunter for two, and Hector Neris for three, all with a three-run lead in tow — can’t be overstated.
In snapping a three-game losing streak, the Phillies also crept back to within a half-game of the Miami Marlins for second place in the National League East. They are 24-23 and must go 7-6 the rest of the way to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2011. Even a .500 mark likely will get them into the playoffs.
“We’ve had some bad [injury] news the last few days,” Arrieta said. “Losing Rhys [Hoskins], losing J.T. [Realmuto] for at least a few days, Spencer, with what he was going through, it seems like this is pretty much rock bottom for us after playing such great baseball for a 12-, 13-game stretch. It’s just another chapter in our story that we have to continue to write. Nobody said it was going to be easy, right?”
The Phillies were leading, 2-1, before Gregorius' blast in the fifth inning. It came one batter after Alec Bohm knocked the glove off Mets third baseman J.D. Davis' hand with a one-hopper that came off the bat at 100.7 mph.
Bohm, starting at first base for the first time in his major-league career, also dug out a throw to help Romero record a rally-killing double play on his first pitch after replacing Arrieta.
Arrieta threw 26, 19, and 23 pitches in the first three innings but didn’t give up a run until Brandon Nimmo’s homer on the first pitch of the fifth. Despite laboring early, Arrieta was in position to finish the sixth.
But Arrieta gave up a leadoff single and a one-out hit, then hit Andres Gimenez with the pitch that caused his hamstring to give out.
“It was just on that pitch,” said Arrieta, who could be free agent this winter after signing a three-year, $75 million contract in 2018 and posting a 4.36 ERA in 64 starts. “I knew as soon as it happened there was no way I could throw another pitch tonight and made my way off the field as best I could."
How long will it be before the Phillies see him again?
Stay tuned, as Girardi likes to say.