Cubs: Jake Arrieta doesn't want to make a big deal out of Opening Day start


Cubs: Jake Arrieta doesn't want to make a big deal out of Opening Day start

MESA, Ariz. - Jake Arrieta didn't exactly shrug off the opportunity to start Opening Day for the Cubs, but it's not like he's screaming it from the rooftops, either.

Between Joe Maddon, Jon Lester and Arrieta, the Cubs continue to pull on the same rope, projecting the same message that the April 4 starter is not as big of a deal as media or fans make it seem.

[RELATED - No surprise: Cubs giving Jake Arrieta the Opening Day start]

After all, the Cubs didn't even make the official announcement until March 1 - almost two weeks after pitchers and catchers reported to camp - even though the rotation features the reigning National League Cy Young winner.

"It's kinda something that maybe's made a little too much of," Arrieta said. "But it's done now and really after Opening Day, we have 161 games left to play. That's really our only concern."

The Cubs refuse to get caught up in hyping just one game when they have a World Series or bust mentality.

At the same time, Arrieta takes pride in being able to start Opening Day for the second time in his career (he also got the ball to open the 2012 season for the Baltimore Orioles).

"It's an honor, obviously," Arrieta said. "I was able to get an Opening Day start earlier in my career during a different point in my career.

"It's kind of a new chapter, not only for myself but for everybody here. We're just looking forward to the journey."

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Arrieta threw seven shutout innings for the Orioles in that 2012 opener, picking up the win in the process.

He feels like he can draw from that experience a bit, even if 2016's Game 1 is a completely different situation.

"There are some things I'll use from that," Arrieta said. "Some things I'll use from many other experiences like playoff atmospheres, just to kind of really hold that adrenaline at bay and use it when I need it.

"That's really the biggest thing there is just to keep your emotions in check and be able to kinda control your breathing and your heart rate and not let things speed up on you too much."

Lester got the Opening Day nod for the Cubs last year - his debut with the team - in front of a raucous Wrigley Field crowd against the rival St. Louis Cardinals in a nationally-televised game that opened the season for all of baseball. Talk about adrenaline.

[MORE - Jon Lester feels like he's 'ahead of the game' this spring with Cubs]

With the opener coming on the road against the Angels in Los Angeles this year, Arrieta admits that may help him stay a little more even-keeled.

But the soon-to-be-30-year-old starter also dropped one of his favorite phrases, saying it's "business as usual" once he steps between the lines, regardless of where the game is being played.

Arrieta said his body feels great and his arm strength is "exceptionally good" after a season in which he threw 248.2 innings including playoffs. The Cubs plan on easing Arrieta into the season with an eye on saving some bullets for September and October.

"He's throwing really well already," Maddon said. "Like 'I'm gonna pick up where I left off' kinda thing. Having said all that, [we] still wanna monitor it."

Between Arrieta, Lester and John Lackey, the Cubs conceivably could have chosen any one of the three to start Opening Day, but Arrieta was the obvious choice after putting up the best second half in the history of baseball and taking home the game's most coveted pitching award.

"Somebody's gotta start that game," Arrieta said. "It just so happens to be me. ... It's nice to be in that role, but I don't put a whole lot of weight into it.

"We're gonna need five guys [in the rotation] from start to finish to try to get to where we're trying to go and we all know where that is."

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans


Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: