August has been a tough month for Jake Arrieta.
Those struggles continued Wednesday night, before the Phillies rallied for a crucial drought-snapping victory over the Washington Nationals. Arrieta lasted only three innings, walking three and giving up four hits — two of which were home runs — en route to a 12.00 ERA for the night, increasing his season ERA to 3.54.
Arrieta said he feels a "huge responsibility. That's why the effort I gave tonight wasn't acceptable. I expect a lot more, as well as my teammates do, from my starts. That's frustrating. But winning that game is a relief."
It took the veteran righthander 75 pitches to get through those three innings, and 75 not-so-great pitches at that: The Nationals swung and missed only once (and on the 74th pitch, no less) and made contact 26 times. Opposing starter Gio Gonzalez, by comparison, created 13 swings-and-misses from his 98 pitches over five innings.
Still, things were largely going fine for Arrieta until the third, and then suddenly they were not. After striking out Gonzalez, the first batter, Arrieta gave up a triple to Adam Eaton, a homer to Trea Turner, a five-pitch walk to Anthony Rendon, and another homer to Juan Soto (on a 3-0 count) — all in a row.
Making the Soto homer even more vexing, the show-stopping Nats teenager had even given Arrieta a warning shot two innings prior, during an at-bat when he ultimately struck out looking. "He showed the ability there to see the ball deep and put a good swing on it, as he did with the home run," Arrieta said.
After such a poor and taxing third inning, Gabe Kapler said he decided it would be "irresponsible" to send the 32-year-old back out in the fourth. It also, based on how the start was going, would've been a risky decision given that the Phillies were already down by 4-2 at the time.
"I just thought he lost command; that's as simple as I can put it," Kapler said. "He lost his command, and they started to put good swings on him."
After a July stretch in which the Phillies won all six Arrieta starts, with the pitcher picking up the win in four of them, the Aug. 6 meltdown in Arizona, when the team squandered eight shutout innings from Arrieta, proved to be a harbinger of the month that was to come.
The Missouri native has since been shelled by the lowly Padres, admirably lost a pitchers' duel against Jake DeGrom, mildly struggled in a loss in Toronto, and then turned in Wednesday's outing. He has conceded four home runs in his last eight innings, and his ERA has risen a half-run since that dominant showing against the Diamondbacks, and well more than a full run since its low point at the start of June.
The frustrations of this recent stretch showed in his words Wednesday, even with the rest of the clubhouse in good spirits. "Everybody contributed except me tonight," he said.
His analyses of the team's collective effort to move past its troubles of late, however, offer an equally applicable blueprint for his own mindset heading into his next scheduled start, Tuesday in Miami. Given his experience and general effectiveness this season overall, it seems likely better days are coming — perhaps as soon as the free-falling Marlins' order marches up to the plate against him.