WASHINGTON — To Gabe Kapler, there wasn't much of a choice.
The Phillies manager could plainly see that Jake Arrieta was cruising here Sunday. Arrieta could have pitched a few more innings, maybe even completed the game. But the Phillies had the tying run on second base in the seventh inning, and the Washington Nationals were about to turn to their bullpen after ace Max Scherzer racked up 15 strikeouts.
It was now or never.
So, Kapler swallowed hard and lifted Arrieta for a pinch-hitter. Nick Williams delivered, too, lining a game-tying RBI single against Nationals lefty Sammy Solis.
And after the Phillies' bullpen imploded in the eighth and ninth innings, allowing four runs in a 5-4 walk-off loss, Kapler wasn't about to second-guess himself for not leaving Arrieta in the game.
"I told Jake that we desperately wanted to send him back out there. I think he knew that we wanted very badly to send him back out there with how good he was pitching," Kapler said. "When you're running out of outs, you can't give any more away. We had a guy on the bench [in Williams] that we felt could hit a homer for us, and we didn't want to give up that opportunity."
Arrieta understood. He has spent the past five seasons in the National League and realizes there are times when a pitcher must come out of a game before he stops throwing his best stuff.
"I knew if there was a situation with a guy on base, less than two outs, I was going to hit, try to bunt him over," Arrieta said. "But it's just one of those situations. It's tough to come out of the game, but you understand why you have to."
The early hook hardly diminished Arrieta's excellence in matching Scherzer. It was precisely the occasion for which the Phillies signed Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million contract. In fact, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, it marked the first meeting of pitchers who combined to win a league's last three Cy Young Awards since Tom Glavine vs. Randy Johnson on April 28, 2001.
And although Scherzer drew most of the headlines for his 15 punchouts, he lasted only 6 1/3 innings because he threw 111 pitches. Arrieta was a model of efficiency. He bounced back after a rough start last Monday in Miami and tossed only 75 pitches in six innings. He gave up just two hits, including a solo homer to Matt Adams.
"I don't care about strikeouts," said Arrieta, who has a 3.15 ERA through six starts. "I'm trying to get the guy out on the first pitch."