The 54th pitch Jake Arrieta threw Tuesday night was slapped for an inning-ending double play, yet another routine grounder as Arrieta cruised through another inning. Arrieta’s sinker had bite, his slider was reliable, and he finished five innings with relative ease after beginning the game by giving up a leadoff homer.
Finally, it seemed, the Phillies would not be forced to let their bullpen determine the outcome. And then the Nationals Park grounds crew busted on the field, tarped the infield, and finished Arrieta’s night.
In order to secure an 8-3 win over the Nationals, the Phillies would need 12 outs from their bullpen. For the worst bullpen in baseball, 12 outs is a tall task. The bullpen tackled it.
Heath Hembree, Tommy Hunter, Hector Neris, Adam Morgan, and Blake Parker pieced together the final four innings to open a three-game series with a win before the Phillies face Patrick Corbin and Max Scherzer.
The Phillies tacked on four runs in the final three innings, allowing Brandon Workman -- who Joe Girardi identified before the game as his closer -- to rest after pitching in two straight games since being acquired Friday from Boston.
The bullpen entered the game with an 8.00 ERA following a volatile first four weeks of the season. But the unit has now pitched well in two straight games. It has added three new relievers, swapped in some new arms from Allentown, and seen some adjustments from the pitchers who have been here all season. Perhaps the team’s late-inning luck could be changing.
“I feel like our bullpen has gotten a lot deeper in the last few days,” J.T. Realmuto said. “Obviously, our offense and starting pitching has been really good all year long and we struggled in the bullpen early. But with the moves that we made, we’re all looking forward to getting better in the back end and being able to win games late.”
Hunter provided four outs after relieving Hembree, who allowed a homer, with two outs in the sixth. It was Hunter’s second straight scoreless appearance and he seems to be pitching himself into higher-leverage situations. The right-hander’s velocity has increased and he looks much different than the pitcher who faced five Yankees earlier this season without recording an out.
“There’s not a single person in this clubhouse who doesn’t want to win a World Series,” Hunter said after the Phillies moved out of last place. “That’s our goal. We’re going to try to do that until someone tells us that we can’t. That’s it. We want to win. And that’s what our fan base needs to know. This team wants to win, really bad.”
“And so do I. I have three runner-up rings in a coat closet. I don’t like them. I want to win.”
Girardi said before the game that the Phillies needed to get Neris “right.” He opened the season as a closer but was bumped out of that role last weekend after he struggled and the Phillies added three new relievers.
A four-run lead in the eighth seemed to be a chance to work Neris back in. But he allowed two singles and was pulled with two outs for the left-handed Morgan, who faced left-hander Juan Soto. Morgan induced the groundout, the inning was finished, but Neris was still not completely right.
“He threw the ball well,” Girardi said. “I thought he threw the ball well. He will build off that and he will continue to make strides.”
J.T. Realmuto hit a three-run homer in the third to give the Phillies a 4-1 lead. Realmuto has nine homers through the first 25 games of the season. In franchise history, only Chase Utley, Mike Schmidt, and Cy Williams have hit more in that span. He leads the National League in RBIs despite the Phillies playing fewer games than most thanks to a week of postponements. His free-agent price does not seem to be getting any cheaper.
“When I hit it, I knew I was a couple inches short, so I got upset,” Realmuto said of his homer, which bounced off the top of the right-field fence before falling over. “But I got lucky...This was definitely the most unique homer that I’ve ever hit.”
Andrew McCutchen drove in two runs and Jean Segura had two RBIs on three singles as the Phillies combined for 12 hits. Bryce Harper reached base three times, including two walks, and Alec Bohm singled in a run in the eighth by poking a first-pitch 98 mph fastball by Tanner Rainey into center field.
In the seventh, Roman Quinn reached on a bunt single and then stole second base. The Phillies stole four bases on Tuesday night and are 16-for-18 this season on stolen-base attempts. Quinn then moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Andrew McCutchen’s grounder to shortstop.
The infield was pulled in and Trea Turner fielded the ball cleanly and made a strong throw home. But it didn’t matter. Quinn slid perfectly into home -- feet first -- and grabbed the back of the plate to avoid the tag by Kurt Suzuki. Quinn, according to StatCast’s sprint speed leaderboard, is the fastest runner in baseball. And that sequence displayed it perfectly. He created a run with his legs.
“As a catcher, I know firsthand that he makes you very anxious when he’s on the bases,” Realmuto said. “There’s no comfortable spot whether he’s on first, second, third, it doesn’t matter. The guy makes plays on the base paths. We’re screaming in the dugout the whole time he’s running. Everyone loves to watch him run. He scores a lot of runs for us that a lot of people wouldn’t score.”
Arrieta allowed just three hits, one of which was a leadoff homer in the first by Turner. He only had one strikeout, instead pitching to contact. He induced three double plays and picked up 12 of his 15 outs via groundouts. Arrieta failed to finish the fifth inning in his last two starts, so Tuesday night’s was a much-needed performance.
“I thought Jake was really good tonight,” Girardi said. “He gave up the leadoff and that was pretty much all he gave up. We turned some nifty double plays behind him and he kept the ball on the ground. That’s when Jake is at his best.
“I thought that was some of the best stuff that he’s had since this year has started.”
Aaron Nola is one of baseball’s premier starters. Zack Wheeler, Girardi said before Tuesday’s game, is “the real deal.” Arrieta has been a bit of a mystery. He started the season with two strong starts, then threw a pair of duds. The Phillies need a third starting pitcher, especially if they want to chase down a playoff spot.
Arrieta looked the part on Tuesday night. And then the rain came. But the bullpen did not wash his night away.