CLEARWATER, Fla. – More than 8,000 people piled into Spectrum Field Thursday afternoon to see prized free-agent addition Jake Arrieta throw a baseball for the first time in a Phillies uniform. Even though he surrendered two runs in the same amount of innings in his spring-training debut against the Detroit Tigers, you still got the feeling that Arrieta will live up to his billing as the stud at the top of the rotation the Phillies desperately needed.
The morning before, after most of his teammates left for a road game against Toronto in nearby Dunedin, Arrieta showed off another aspect of his game that should be fun to watch this season. In fact, he might even help himself win a game or two. With the Phillies’ home ballpark mostly empty, except for a smattering of fans along the left-field line, Arrieta put on a batting-practice show, spraying line drives into the outfield before crushing a ball off the black backdrop beyond the 401-foot sign in center field.
It was clear that he takes batting practice and the act of hitting seriously even though he is a pitcher.
“Totally, yeah, you have to,” Arrieta said. “In making the transition from the American League to the National League in 2013 and being super competitive, I want to contribute in any way possible.”
His greatest contribution with the bat so far was his postseason home run off Madison Bumgarner in Game 3 of the Cubs’ 2016 division series against San Francisco.
It is well documented that Arrieta won the National League Cy Young Award after posting a 22-6 record and a 1.77 ERA for the Chicago Cubs in 2015. The next season, however, he won the Silver Slugger award as the best hitting pitcher in the league. He batted .262 with two home runs, five extra-base hits and a .720 OPS that season.
It is an accomplishment that Arrieta, 32, clearly cherishes.
“I was able to win a Silver Slugger a couple years ago, but I didn’t have a great year at the plate last year,” he said.
There was a good reason why he only hit .131 last season. Pitchers started treating him more like a hitter.
“Absolutely,” Arrieta said. “First-pitch curveballs. First-pitch changeups. And now my job is to be able to lay off the off-speed stuff and target more pitches in certain spots versus trying to cover everything across the plate. I try to take more of a hitter’s approach to my game at the plate now because guys are pitching me so different.”
Arrieta said he believes his dedication to hitting has also made him a better pitcher.
“From a pitching perspective, stepping into the box you get even more of an appreciation of how difficult hitting is,” he said. “I think that helps me on the mound realize that these guys have to react quickly and they also have to deal with three or four pitches. If I can use that approach when I’m out on the mound by understanding how difficult this is it makes my job out there a lot easier.”
Since 2014, his first full season in the National League after playing three-plus seasons in Baltimore, Arrieta has hit .180 with five doubles, four triples, five home runs, 17 RBIs and a .501 OPS. His five home runs, all of which have come in the last three seasons, are tied for seventh among active pitchers.
“I’ve always put a lot of time into hitting,” he said. “I hit throughout the offseason with position players. I talk to them about certain ways to approach different pitchers. It just helps me become more of a well-rounded player. I take it very seriously and we should. I don’t want to be a free out.”