Blame Pedro Martinez. Two winters ago, the Hall of Famer agreed to meet with a young pitcher who was coming off a dreadful season for the Yankees. They got together at Quisqueya Stadium in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and for a few hours, Martinez broke down the kid's mechanics. That was the day Luis Severino became a star. In 48 starts over the past two seasons, Severino is 26-8 with a 2.66 ERA, 362 strikeouts and only 77 walks in 305 innings. And on Tuesday night against the Phillies, Pedro's protege was brilliant. He threw a first-pitch strike to the first 17 batters, scattered six hits (five singles) and racked up nine strikeouts in seven scoreless innings of a 6-0 victory. Quite simply, the Phillies never had a chance.

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After going 2-1 with a 0.90 ERA in five starts in May, Phillies righthander Jake Arrieta was 0-4 with a 6.66 ERA in five June starts.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
After going 2-1 with a 0.90 ERA in five starts in May, Phillies righthander Jake Arrieta was 0-4 with a 6.66 ERA in five June starts.

After magnificent May, a June swoon for Arrieta

Fact: When Jake Arrieta pitches, the Phillies make too many errors.

But this, too, is true: Arrieta has less margin for error than he once did.

At his peak, Arrieta could overpower hitters with velocity that crept up to 94-95 mph. From 2014 through 2016, he averaged 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings for the Cubs. That was how he won one Cy Young Award and posted two other top-10 finishes.

These days, though, Arrieta's velocity tops out at about 93 mph. He's averaging only 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Rather than overwhelming hitters, he relies on getting weak contact, and hitters make contact against him at a higher rate than at any point since his rookie season with the Orioles.

Arrieta is still capable of dominance. Just last month, he gave up three earned runs in 30 innings for a 0.90 ERA in five starts. But when he lacks his precision command, or when his mechanics are slightly off, he runs the risk of getting hit hard. That was what happened Tuesday night against the Yankees, when he gave up six runs (three earned) on nine hits, including solo homers by Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius. It happened for most of June, as he went 0-4 with a 6.66 ERA.

"The ball is getting hit. That's it," Arrieta said. "Making mistakes, too many mistakes, especially against an aggressive, a good lineup. I was throwing quality breaking balls early in the count, and then when I needed to go back to a similar spot or a little bit lower in the strike zone or out of the strike zone, I put it too much in the zone and they hit it. It's a pretty simple explanation."

Added catcher Andrew Knapp: "Obviously, the stuff's there. Just kind of lacking a little bit of sharpness going into some hitters. I don't know if it's mechanical or just bad luck. I mean, we have to play better defense behind him. That's just a fact."

It isn't enough for the Phillies to begin worrying about their $75 million righthander. Arrieta is perfectly capable of regaining his mastery in July. But it does reinforce why, when he isn't perfect, he's no longer the automatic shutdown ace that he once was.

The rundown

Arrieta should sue for a lack of support. He gave up nine hits and five innings and wasn't particularly sharp, but a costly error by Cesar Hernandez led to three unearned runs. Arrieta has given up a majors-leading 14 unearned runs this season, as Matt Breen writes.

For all of Gabe Kapler's radical talk of a bullpen without roles, Mike Sielski opines that the forward-thinking manager might be more open to establishing set patterns for his relievers if only he had more reliable relievers.

Hector Neris said before the game that he has returned from triple A with more confidence in his signature splitter. Then, he proved it by striking out both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in a dominant top of the ninth. Never mind that it was 6-0. Nasty Neris was in full force again, finally.

In his second minor-league rehab appearance, veteran reliever Pat Neshek gave up one run on two hits at double-A Reading, then caught up with our Marc Narducci.

Important dates

Tonight: Zach Eflin (4-0, 2.28 ERA in June) faces Yankees in series finale, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Aaron Nola Day. Phillies ace starts opener vs. Nationals, 7:05 p.m.
Friday / Saturday: Fireworks displays after Phils-Nats games, 7:05 / 6:05 p.m.
Sunday: Decent possibility of a Jake Arrieta vs. Max Scherzer duel, 1:35 p.m.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler lobbied unsuccessfully for slugger Rhys Hoskins to get additional pine tar for his bat in the middle of a plate appearance in the eighth inning Tuesday night.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler lobbied unsuccessfully for slugger Rhys Hoskins to get additional pine tar for his bat in the middle of a plate appearance in the eighth inning Tuesday night.

Stat of the day

In addition to their 27 World Series championships, the Yankees have the highest winning percentage (.569) of any active MLB franchise. The Phillies, meanwhile, have lost more games (10,872) than any active franchise. Yet the exceedingly rare head-to-head matchups between the clubs have been a virtual dead heat.

Consider this: Entering play Tuesday night, the Fightin' Phils had a 14-14 record in 28 regular-season meetings with the Bronx Bombers. The overall score in those games: 149-149. Doesn't get more even than that.

Of course, the Yankees' real advantage over the Phillies has come in the World Series. After sweeping the Whiz Kids in 1950, the Yankees spoiled the Phillies' chances to win back-to-back titles by vanquishing them in six games in 2009.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Question: We read a lot about the decline in hitting and banning infield shifts. I've been a Phils fan long enough to remember Richie Hebner going 5-for-5 with five bunt singles against a Cincinnati Reds shift one day. My question: why doesn't Cesar Hernandez lay one down when he sees a shift when he's leading off an inning (like the first inning)? Isn't that a way to get defenses to play straight up eventually and improve your odds? He's got a good on-base percentage, but he's slugging .390. Thanks and keep up the good work. — Bernard A., via email

Answer: Thanks, Bernard, both for reading and submitting a question. I covered the Red Sox for many years, so I'm not sure I've ever seen a hitter get shifted more often than David Ortiz. Every so often, I'd ask him if he considered bunting. He would laugh and assure me that it wasn't as easy as it sounded, especially when a pitcher is throwing in the upper 90s.

You asked specifically about Hernandez, who has considerably more speed and less power than Big Papi and profiles as a more sensible candidate to beat the shift by dropping down a bunt. But Hernandez is also one of the most patient hitters in the league, rarely chasing pitches out of the strike zone and drawing walks at a high rate. He leads the Phils with a .374 on-base percentage, so reaching base hasn't been a big problem. He also doesn't have a bunt hit since 2016, a sign that he isn't as comfortable with laying one down as it might seem.