Cubs: Jake Arrieta already feels locked in after Cy Young season


Cubs: Jake Arrieta already feels locked in after Cy Young season

MESA, Ariz. – Jake Arrieta took his game to a completely different place last season, putting the Cubs on his shoulders and winning the National League Cy Young Award.

Arrieta etched his name into the record books with a dominant run that echoed Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Doc Gooden in their prime. His 0.41 ERA in his final 12 starts (11-0) is the lowest for any pitcher from Aug. 1 through the season’s end since that became an official stat.

That doesn’t include the physical demands and emotional drain from three postseason starts that nearly pushed Arrieta’s innings total to 250. Mentally, he tried to visualize everything and eventually figured out what worked — and what didn’t — after a disappointing start to his career with the Baltimore Orioles.

Now the question becomes: Can Arrieta get back to that almost unconscious state?

“I am locked in like that,” Arrieta said without hesitation on Saturday afternoon, standing inside the Sloan Park clubhouse. “I’m right there.”

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Arrieta had just thrown five scoreless innings against a Colorado Rockies Triple-A team that didn’t really make any hard contact against him (which makes those hitters like just about any lineup that faced him after the All-Star break last season). 

“It’s a record in all of baseball — ever,” Arrieta said. “So to say I’m going to have those numbers again is probably not realistic. But they’re going to be good. I know that.”

Anything seems possible at Cubs camp, where a motivational speaker used a sledgehammer to break a cement brick over manager Joe Maddon’s chest during the team meeting.

The Cubs weren’t trolling the White Sox when they had RBI teams (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) from Chicago and Arizona join them in their team stretch. (This trip had been planned in advance, long before all the Adam LaRoche drama.)

Addison Russell then did his Michael Jackson impression during the daily dance session/mosh pit that leads into the start of the workout.

Arrieta — who brought a sense of swagger to this team — fits perfectly in this environment. So in tune with his body and his mechanics, he estimated he exerted around 80-percent effort while giving up two hits and one walk and getting four strikeouts.

Everything looked sharp to Miguel Montero, who caught 24 of Arrieta’s starts last season (22-6, 1.77 ERA), plus three more in the playoffs, including that complete-game shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild-card round.

“That could be the best year of his career,” Montero said. “It’s tough to repeat. (But) if he wins 18 games with an ERA (around) 2.20 or 2.30 or 2.50, it’s a really good year. That’s Cy Young numbers right there.

“And people will be maybe a little bit disappointed because of that? I don’t think you can be disappointed. I remember playing with (Paul) Goldschmidt (in Arizona and he) hit 30-something homers, .320/.330 (average), 130 RBIs. Can you do it again?

“That’s tough to repeat. It doesn’t matter who you are. (But) I don’t see why not. He’s got the potential to do it.”

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Cubs fans!]

Arrieta — who will make his next start on Thursday against the San Francisco Giants in an ESPN game — certainly won’t argue that point. He believes this stuff would play on April 4 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim against Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.

“I could have started Opening Day today,” Arrieta said. “I threw 60 pitches with very little effort. I could have easily gone 20 or 30 more.”

After silencing the blackout crowd at PNC Park, Arrieta knows what it’s like to feel invincible. It didn’t matter that this was March 19 on Field 6.

“It gets to a point where you don’t even realize that,” Arrieta said. “It’s just me and the catcher. I kind of see the umpire and the hitter in the box. But I think (it’s) just getting locked in and focusing mentally.

“Go back to Pittsburgh in the wild-card game — I was able to pretty much drown out the entire atmosphere and focus on Miggy behind the plate.”


Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey


Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”