The three-run single is not as rare as a no-hitter, a perfect game or a triple play, but it is not something you see at the ballpark every day, either. We saw it Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park, and it proved to be the pivotal moment in the Phillies' 7-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
As three-run singles go, this one was particularly strange because it came off the bat of second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who is arguably the fastest man on the Phillies. After Rhys Hoskins hit a solo home run off Jameson Taillon to open the second inning, the Phillies loaded the bases without a ball leaving the infield. Nick Williams walked, Scott Kingery was hit by a pitch; and J.P. Crawford reached on a bunt single. The Phillies were in jeopardy of not adding to their one-run lead, however, after Jorge Alfaro and pitcher Jake Arrieta struck out.
But then Hernandez worked the count to 3-2, which set all three runners in motion, and delivered a line drive to right-center field. The ball was cut off by center fielder Starling Marte, and that held Hernandez at first. Williams and Kingery scored easily, and third-base coach Dusty Wathan waved Crawford home because he had gotten an incredible jump from first base. The Pirates were down by 4-0 and doomed against a dominant Jake Arrieta.
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While Jake Arrieta's dominating start deservedly received most of the attention, it could not completely overshadow the Victor Arano watch. The rookie reliever finished the win over the Bucs with another perfect inning, extending his streak of retiring batters to 25 straight this season. His overall streak is at 32 dating to last season. The record for consecutive outs recorded was set in 2014 when Yusmeiro Petit retired 46 straight for the San Francisco Giants. Arano, 23, insisted that the streak has not made him nervous on the mound.
"No, not really," he said through the team interpreter. "I feel confident. I'm not really paying too much attention to it."
The Jake Arrieta questions before the game focused on how few batters had swung and missed against the veteran righthander in his first two starts with the Phillies. He had induced a total of nine swinging strikes in his first two games. He induced 12 against the Pirates, as he allowed just one hit and struck out 10 in seven innings. If that's the Arrieta we're going to see for the rest of the season, this could be a special season for the Phillies. Our newcomer, Scott Lauber, made his Inquirer/Daily News debut by writing about Arrieta's best start so far this season.
"That really starts with locating the fastball inside to lefthanded hitters or glove side to righthanded hitters," Arrieta said when asked about the swings and misses and high strikeout total. "When I'm able to do that, it opens up the plate for me inside. I'm able to run balls in off the plate and still get swings. That's just the back-and-forth, speed-up-slow-them-down type of game that you have to play as a starting pitcher, especially if you're trying to pitch deep into ballgames. Any time I get a multiple-run lead, I'm going to be aggressive in the strike zone. I don't care who's at the plate. I'm going to make them put the ball in play or at least put the pressure on them, and that's what I intend to do moving forward."
Manager Gabe Kapler batted his pitcher ninth for the ninth time in 15 National League games Thursday night even though his starter was Jake Arrieta, one of the better hitting pitchers in baseball. The manager has also hit the pitcher eighth six times this season, but Kapler is not willing to say much about what goes into his thinking. The Phils are 4-5 with the pitcher batting ninth and 4-2 when the pitcher bats eighth.
Tonight: Ben Lively vs. Ivan Nova, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Aaron Nola vs. Steven Brault, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Nick Pivetta vs. Trevor Williams, 1:35 p.m.
Tuesday: Phillies open three-game series against Arizona, 7:05 p.m.
The Phillies' 6-1 start at Citizens Bank Park this season is their best home start of the century. The last time the team started a season 6-1 at home was 25 years ago when the 1993 team won six of its first seven at Veterans Stadium en route to the team's fifth World Series appearance. The last time the Phillies started 7-1 at home was 1981. This year's team has outscored its opponents by 51-16, a plus-35 run differential that is tied with the Boston Red Sox for the best in the majors at home. The Phillies are 30-18 at CBP since July 9 of last season.
I know it's very early in the season, but both Alfaro and Knapp show a lack of basic defensive catching skills. Neither catcher shows consistent hitting ability to make up for lapses on defense and failure to instill confidence in starting and relief pitchers.
Allan L. M.
Answer: Catching is a legitimate concern for the Phillies in the early going, but they are not alone in that department. It has become arguably the most difficult position to fill in baseball. Phillies catchers are hitting a combined .200 (14 for 70) with just one extra-base hit, and still the great concern is on the defensive side. The Phillies' two catchers have a combined five errors and three passed balls, and they've allowed stolen bases on 10 of 14 attempts. Stolen bases, of course, are not always the fault of the catcher. Knapp has been the better of the two catchers defensively, but the overall work of both needs to improve.