Cubs think Jake Arrieta can actually get even better


Cubs think Jake Arrieta can actually get even better

The Cubs think Jake Arrieta can get even better than he already is.

Yes, seriously - a guy with 18 wins on Sept. 5 and a 2.03 ERA can get even better.

Arrieta is a fitness freak, with an incredible work ethic that has drawn awe from everybody around him (remember Joe Maddon's money quote about Jane Fonda's workout tapes?).

The 29-year-old ace has seen his career take off since being traded to the Cubs in July 2013, but where is the ceiling? How high can he fly?

Even he's not sure.

"I don't know how good I can be," Arrieta said after shutting down the Diamondbacks in Saturday's 2-0 victory. "That's what I'm trying to figure out. That's why I do what I do every day in between starts to prepare myself as best as possible to go out there and see what the results are.

"They've been good. There's some things that I'd like to do better. I like winning for the team. That's the accomplishment, really, for me - getting wins for the team."

Yes, a guy who has given up just four hits over his last 17 innings and has a 0.99 ERA over his last 14 starts has things he would like to do even better.

[RELATED - Jake Arrieta redefining dominance as he makes his case for NL Cy Young]

Arrieta's catcher on Saturday, David Ross, agrees that the sky is the limit for Arrieta having seen the progression the right-hander has made just since spring training.

"He's right there at the top with the best as far as stuff goes," Ross said. "He's only going to get better. He's a No. 1. He's got some of the best stuff in the game. I know that for a fact. I've had to hit off of him before. It wasn't a whole lot of fun.

"He's up there at the top with the group of guys I've been able to catch."

A good example of Arrieta's dominance is his use of a changeup to keep the Arizona hitters off balance Saturday.

Arrieta threw the changeup just 3.4 percent of the time in 2015, but he implemented it in the middle innings against the Diamondbacks just because it was another way to dominate.

[SHOP: Buy a Jake Arrieta jersey]

The Cubs saw in the scouting report that Arizona hitters could stay on his breaking ball and cutter more, so Arrieta resorted to the changeup, a pitch he basically only throws during side sessions and bullpens.

But it worked.

"He's got command on both sides [of the plate] with his fastball, he's got command on both sides with his cutter, he's got command on both sides with his changeup and he's got command on both sides with his breaking ball," Ross said.

"It makes it pretty tough [on hitters], but it makes my job really, really easy."

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.