Cubs searching for answers after Jake Arrieta can’t stop the bleeding against Mets

Cubs searching for answers after Jake Arrieta can’t stop the bleeding against Mets

NEW YORK – Jake Arrieta stood in front of his locker late Saturday night to deliver his “Terminator” equivalent of the “I’ll be back” line to the media. But the New York Mets know Arrieta’s human – and don’t believe in that aura of invincibility – and now the Cubs must figure out how to repair their ace. 

Arrieta is the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner, on the cover of “ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue” and possibly starting the All-Star Game this summer. He is not, uh, shy or lacking confidence, but he doesn’t have all the answers, either.  

The defending NL champs showed Arrieta is no longer in the zone that transformed this franchise and made the Cubs World Series favorites in 2016, optimistic projections that weren’t based on him being an ordinary or simply above-average pitcher.     

“I don’t think there’s a big cause for concern,” Arrieta said after a 4-3 loss that put the Mets in position to sweep this marquee four-game series on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field. “If you’re in first or last place, every team has those spells where offensively you might struggle a little bit, things on the mound aren’t going as well as you would expect or hope. From my perspective individually, it’s one of those spells for me. 

“But I’m resilient. I’ll bounce back. I’ll get to the point where I was earlier in the season – and last year – soon. It won’t continue. It’s frustrating it has for this long of a period. But we’ll make it right.”    

Arrieta is now 12-3 with a 2.33 ERA, but he’s not clinging to those overall numbers, knowing he had three five-inning starts in June and couldn’t finish the sixth this time, Mets fans booing and waving goodbye as he walked off the mound with runners on the corners and one out and his team trailing 4-2.

[MORE CUBS TALK: Ben Zobrist breaks down what’s wrong with Cubs offense (and how to fix it)]

Lefty reliever Travis Wood minimized the damage by getting Juan Lagares to ground out into a double play, but overall Arrieta felt “very odd physically,” still searching for that sense of timing, explosive stuff and finish on his pitches. 

“He wasn’t comfortable, there’s no question,” manager Joe Maddon said. “If he was injured, I would be more concerned. He’s not injured. That’s the reason why I feel that he’ll be fine.”

The Mets (43-37) jumped Arrieta in the first inning when leadoff guy Brandon Nimmo – who made his big-league debut last weekend – worked a walk and Neil Walker then hammered a 3-2 pitch off a second-deck right-field advertisement for a two-run homer. 

“It’s frustrating for me, just because I expect a lot more out of myself,” Arrieta said. “And to let it continue for three, four starts is not something that I like to see happen. But at the end of the day, when you put too much emphasis on certain things – and you try to make too many adjustments – that can work in reverse. 

“I just need to do a better job of being aggressive early in the count and forcing the issue.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Arrieta – who gave up eight hits and two walks against the 26 batters he faced – dismissed the idea of making a mechanical tweak or shifting his focus in-between starts while working with pitching coach Chris Bosio.

“That’s overblown,” Arrieta said. “It’s not a lot to work on, really. We’re spinning our wheels a little bit too much trying to figure out what the solution is, or is there a problem. I just need to pitch better. That’s it. Bottom line.”

Are you worried about any of this?

“No,” Arrieta said. 

On a night where a 43-year-old pitcher (Bartolo Colon) limited the Cubs (51-29) to two runs across six innings – and late-inning relievers Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia got five of the last seven outs via strikeouts – the Mets made contact and put the ball in play.

The turning point came with two outs in the fourth inning, when Travis d’Arnaud lifted a flyball into shallow center field. Javier Baez raced from second base and reached out his bare right hand, but it glanced off his fingertips, falling onto the grass for a two-run hit. Whether Arrieta simply isn’t getting the breaks – or dealing with some deeper issues that aren’t a click away – the Cubs are about to find out.  

“Poor performance,” Arrieta said. “The command wasn’t great. The stuff wasn’t very good. Overall, just didn’t give the effort my team needed tonight. I needed to be more of a stopper – put a stop to the bleeding.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.