Jake Arrieta, seemingly as healthy as he has been in the parts of three seasons he’s spent in Philadelphia, will make his first start of the 2020 season Monday at Yankee Stadium.
The 34-year-old knows that 2020, just from a baseball sense, can make your head spin if you think too much about it. So rather than focusing on the season not starting until July 24, or the eight-day layoff in between the team’s third and fourth games of the season, Arrieta has tried to stay locked in.
“It’s easy to get down…and your mindset can shift…and you can develop negative thoughts and that can just be contagious and develop into something that’s not going to help our team in any way,” Arrieta said Sunday. “And if those things rub off on teammates or our staff start to see that the morale is down or the energy level isn’t where it should be, that’s going to affect our ability to go out there and win games. So rolling with the punches, that’s the only way to handle this. And at times it’s hard to do that, but in reality, it’s the only way to do it.”
In many senses, the Phillies have faced the same challenges as other teams. All teams faced uncertainty between the late-March suspension of spring training and the eventual start of the season. All teams have to play without fans. All pitchers need to be careful not to lick their fingers, and remember to bring their personal rosin bag in with them at the conclusion of every inning. Arrieta acknowledged Sunday that not being able to high five or hug teammates after they hit a home run or turn in a great performance on the mound has been a challenge, one that all 30 teams are dealing with.
However, more has been thrown on top of that for the Phillies, who haven’t played a game in a week. They dealt with uncertainty about whether COVID-19 had spread through their clubhouse after a series with the Miami Marlins last weekend. After what are now believed to be two false positive tests were reported Thursday, the Phillies weren’t able to be in Citizens Bank Park for three additional days as a majority of the league continued to play the 2020 season.
How have the Phillies been able to keep a sense of team camaraderie in a socially distant environment, one that the team was barred from being in for much of last week?
“Well, Joe [Girardi] is a big part of that, but as players we take care of a lot of that as well,” Arrieta said Sunday. “We see each other as a group kind of early in the day when we get here and guys are kind of in and out of the weight room and the training room. But once the on-field activity starts, we kind of go our separate ways. I take it upon myself to use those times where we are together to talk to guys…tell jokes…make fun of somebody in a way that gets the clubhouse all on one page laughing together and kind of busting each other’s chops, like we normally do.
“That’s a big part of this,” Arrieta continued. “If we have a divide – not from team chemistry or camaraderie – but just a divide from not being able to spend time together and see each other as we are accustomed to, we really can’t let things like that happen. So we have communication throughout the day – it’s not as much as we would like, but we’re doing our best. And we’re going to continue to do that, but we’re also going to be responsible with the social distancing. It’s hard. It’s not something anybody has ever experienced before. It’s one of the strangest periods of time in my lifetime, and we’re just trying to make the most of it.”
The 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner also continued to praise Girardi, who has been dealt a rather impossible hand in his first season as Phillies manager.
“Joe bounces around throughout the day…pretty much non-stop…communicating with each guy individually. We have meetings, just about every other day, to kind of summarize what’s going on around baseball…around our organization…what to expect in the next few days. So he’s a great communicator, he’s a great leader and not ever being in this situation before, he’s handled it exceptionally well and we’re trying to follow his lead as players.”
The latest punch that the Phillies will have to deal with is the arrival of Tropical Storm Isaias, one that may very well force Tuesday’s game at Yankee Stadium to be postponed. In the meantime, Arrieta believes he’ll be able to throw 80-90 pitches Monday evening. The Phillies could certainly use a quality start from Arrieta, as they look to avoid a 1-3 start on the 2020 season.
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