Cubs

Jake Arrieta refuses to cave in, sets tone for Cubs

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Jake Arrieta refuses to cave in, sets tone for Cubs

CINCINNATI — Two years ago, Jake Arrieta may not have made it out of the fifth inning of Sunday's Cubs-Reds game.

But Arrieta has come a long way in the last couple seasons, maturing so much as a pitcher that he has become a frontline arm for the Cubs with a bulldog mentality each time out.

He showed that again Sunday, working around several jams and limiting the damage to just two runs in a 5-2 Cubs victory.

Arrieta looked like he was in cruise control early, setting down the first 11 in a row before the wheels started to come off. Reds third baseman Todd Frazier looped a home run down the left field line and Arrieta gave up back-to-back hits immediately after.

[MORE: Cubs see things starting to come together after sweep of Reds]

The 29-year-old righty escaped that jam, only to find himself in a bases loaded, no-out situation to start the fifth. But once again, he limited the damage, giving up just one run on a Billy Hamilton groundout.

"I sped up a little bit, got out of my rhythm," Arrieta said. "A little uncharacteristic there. But as things got a little more tense there, my emphasis was on not making a mistake. Damage control and making pitches to avoid the big inning.

"When things like that happen, a walk here or there to load the bases really wasn't my concern. My concern was limiting hard-hit balls."

That sounds like a guy who has developed a true understanding of pitching. It's another sign that Arrieta has figured it all out since Baltimore, where he failed to live up to high expectations as a top pitching prospect with the Orioles.

Arrieta is now 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA and 0.94 WHIP on the season. Since joining the Cubs' rotation in late 2013, he is 17-8 with a 2.72 ERA in 38 starts.

Given the way Sunday's outing started, Arrieta admitted he wasn't happy with the result overall, as he hoped to be able to pitch into the eighth inning. 

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But he'll take the win as the Cubs cruised to a 4-2 road trip.

"Jake had great stuff," manager Joe Maddon said. "After the home run, it just seemed like he was off command-wise a little bit. But his stuff was still good.

"I really appreciate fighting through some tough moments. That's what you talk about when you say a guy doesn't cave in. And that matters, because you're not going to have your best everything every night.

"You've got to be able to win with less than your best, and he did. And that's really a tribute to him and his work and his mental focus, etc."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”