PHILADELPHIA -- It has been a long time since the Phillies had a starter on the mound like Jake Arrieta.
Arrieta is somebody with a resume, one the Phillies' rotation has not had since Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter in his final start for the Phillies in July 2015. Arrieta won the 2015 National League Cy Young Award. He helped the Cubs win the '16 World Series. He is a 22-game winner and All-Star. He is one of those pitchers that makes an afternoon at the ballpark feel different because something special could happen.
"He's got such an aura around him," Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp said on Sunday following Arrieta's Phillies debut in a 6-3 loss to the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park.
Added J.P. Crawford: "It's exciting."
Arrieta expects more satisfying starts than the one he had Sunday. He began the afternoon on a strict pitch count because he missed most of Spring Training after signing a three-year, $75 million contract on March 12.
The 32-year-old right-hander allowed three runs and threw 31 pitches in the first. He found a rhythm after that, needing just 43 pitches the rest of the way and retiring 10 of the final 11 batters he faced. He threw 49 sinkers, which averaged 91.7 mph. He got five swings-and-misses on the pitch and 15 called strikes overall.
"Was just maybe a little too giddy, pulling a lot of stuff out of the zone," Arrieta said about his first-inning struggles.
Arrieta surrendered a one-out solo homer to Miguel Rojas, then walked Starlin Castro. Justin Bour followed with a ball up the middle, just to the left of second base. If the Phillies' infielders had been in traditional double-play positioning, it could have been an inning-ending grounder. But shortstop Crawford had been positioned to the right of second. He moved to his right to field the ball, but he couldn't get it out of his glove cleanly for the forceout of the lead runner.
"It is frustrating. You make a good pitch, you get the result based on the pitch, but it doesn't necessarily work out," Arrieta said. "But the numbers show with the shifts, guys hit a ball in certain areas a huge percentage of the time and that's why you see just about every team in the league playing in those sort of shifts. It could have very easily been more up the middle and could have gotten a double-play ball that way. It's just one of those things where baseballs fall in so many different spots. It's hard to account for everywhere."
Knapp committed catcher's interference to load the bases with two outs before Braxton Lee dropped a blooper down the left-field line to score two runs and make it 3-0.
"I almost caught that ball by the time he swung at it," Knapp said. "I don't think I was too close. I just think it was really bad luck."
Arrieta cruised from there, needing only 10 pitches to get through the fourth. He stood in the on-deck circle in the bottom half, but Phillies manager Gabe Kapler pulled him for pinch-hitter Pedro Florimon.
There were a smattering of boos from fans as Arrieta returned to the dugout.
"We want to make sure that he's healthy," Kapler said. "Jake knew that. We had constant communication with Jake leading up to the start and also in the dugout during the game. [Pitching coach Rick Kranitz] was talking to him, I was talking to him myself, and we were all on the same page."
Arrieta said last week that he hoped the Phillies would use the "eye test" if he was cruising in the game. He said on Sunday that he had no problem leaving the game when he did.
"We had multiple conversations about the number [of pitches] and some of that was based on high-stress innings, low-stress innings and trying to find a good combination with those variables," Arrieta said. "The first inning was really stressful, but I knew that after the third, I had an opportunity to get through four, maintain the score where it was and hand it over to the bullpen from there.
"After the third, I knew I was working with about 10 pitches and I told Kap, 'I'll get through it in 10 pitches or less.'"
Arrieta said he hopes to throw 85-90 pitches in his next start, which is scheduled for next weekend against the Rays in St. Petersburg.