In spring training, the Cubs made sure to give their veteran pitchers a scouting report on Willson Contreras, telling them this is the catcher of the future, maybe as soon as the middle of this season, so you better get used to him. Those great expectations for Contreras even influenced how the Cubs coordinated those mundane early-morning drills in Arizona.
“I could see he was very eager and he was definitely not afraid,” manager Joe Maddon said. “With all respect to everybody he may have to catch, he was not going to be intimidated by it. I love that.”
The Cubs pushed Contreras onto the fast track, and are now phasing out Miguel Montero, watching the rookie catch Jake Arrieta for the first time in The Show during Thursday afternoon’s 9-6 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field.
With seven walks, Arrieta didn’t look like the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner, but that says more about his command/timing issues this year than the development of Contreras.
“Really bright,” Maddon said. “Really retains things extremely well and has a good feel and understanding of what’s going on in the game. His mound trips have been great.
“Of course, he throws. He’s actually blocking and receiving the ball better. I don’t know if that’s just a more comfortable moment for him or not. But all that stuff has gotten better with the year in progress.
“He’s swinging the bat well. He’s getting good at-bats. But I’ve been really focused on the defensive component, and every part of that has gotten better.”
Arrieta retired the first eight batters he faced, and took a no-hitter into the fourth inning before giving up back-to-back walks to Hernan Perez and Chris Carter, setting up the three-run homer Kirk Nieuwenhuis drilled into the right-center field bleachers.
Arrieta later exited the mound with a 7-4 lead, two outs in the sixth inning and runners on the corners before reliever Spencer Patton walked in the fifth run.
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“Willson and I are pretty comfortable working with each other,” said Arrieta, who’s still an All-Star with a 15-5 record and a 2.75 ERA. “He knows what I like to do. I know his catching style from behind the plate. That really wasn’t an issue. It was really just (bad) execution, not hitting spots in a couple key situations.”
How the relationship between Arrieta and Contreras evolves could become a major storyline across the season’s final six weeks.
“The game plan from the beginning has been a good one,” Maddon said. “Now you’re seeing it actually being carried out, (while we’re) getting close to September. But there was stuff that we had talked about in February (that’s) playing out right now.”