Jake Arrieta good with Cubs’ plan to limit workload


Jake Arrieta good with Cubs’ plan to limit workload

MESA, Ariz. — Jake Arrieta had a stretch last year in which he threw at least eight innings in five consecutive starts. It came at a critical time, beginning with his no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers Aug. 30 and ending with a shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers Sept. 22. In that span, the Cubs lead for the second wild card spot went from a safe five and a half games to an insurmountable nine and a half games, and nearly allowed them to catch the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon, though, said this week he plans on reining in Arrieta from those lengthy starts in an effort to keep the defending National Cy Young winner fresh for an expected postseason berth. 

“From a psychological perspective, him completing games last year, him pitching deep into games last year benefited him last year and in the future,” Maddon said. “Now it’s up to us to monitor that to the point where, listen, you know you can do it, you’ve done it now and you know how good you are now, but permit us to protect you a little bit in the latter part of the game.”

Arrieta threw 229 innings over his 33 starts — an average of just under seven innings per game — before the 2015 postseason. He shut out the Pirates in that memorable Wild Card game at PNC Park, but struggled in his next two outings, combining to allow eight runs in 10 2/3 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets. 

The hope is pulling Arrieta after six or seven innings will help deliver more performances like he had in the Wild Card game and fewer like he had in the National League Division Series and National League Championship Series. 

Arrieta and Maddon discussed that plan earlier this spring, and it’s one with which the 30-year-old right-hander is on board. 

“I think those bullets that I do have left are going to be more important in October,” Arrieta said. “And that’s kind of what I learned last year. Obviously the competitiveness that I display since I was a kid was full-go last year. I didn’t want to come out in the seventh or eighth. 

“But at the end of the day, what’s most important for our team is what I really care about. If that means only going 210 (innings) up to October instead of 230, I’m fine with that. We’re more than capable of having guys come in and successfully close the door.”

[MORE: Cubs see self-awareness as key to Javier Baez's improvement]

Arrieta made his first Cactus League start on Wednesday, firing two scoreless frames against the Cleveland Indians. He struck out four and didn’t allow a hit or a walk in a game the Cubs lost, 5-3. 

Beginning with his start Wednesday, Arrieta will return to a normal five-day cycle as he builds up to being able to throw 85 or 90 pitches before opening the season against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim. Arrieta said he felt good enough to throw a third inning, but given all the work he’d put in prior to his first start, didn’t feel the need to push it. 

Arrieta may not be as warm to that acquiescent approach in the season, but Maddon said he’ll call back to the conversation the pair had in Arizona about staying fresh for October if he wants to push deeper into a start. 

For now, though, everything is on track. 

“I’m exactly where I thought I would be,” Arrieta said. “No aches and pains, bumps or bruises.”

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.