MESA, Ariz. – It took 71 seconds before Jake Arrieta sounded annoyed by the third question about his right thumb: “There’s no blister anymore.”
Even if Arrieta already answered that in his own mind, stir-crazy reporters – and anxious fans watching on TV – wanted to know before the Cubs leave Arizona.
In front of another sellout crowd at Sloan Park, it became the storyline during Tuesday’s 9-5 win over the Oakland A’s, the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner throwing 102 pitches and looking ready for Opening Day.
“Everything’s good,” Arrieta said, standing outside the clubhouse in a tank top on an unseasonably cold and windy day for Mesa (63 degrees at first pitch) that felt more like Wrigley Field. “I’m just really staying on top of it and making sure it doesn’t open up. But it’s been a nonissue, really.”
Manager Joe Maddon has no doubts about who will get the ball on April 4 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim: “I have all the confidence in the world that Jake’s ready to go.”
It could have been a major issue, because without Arrieta’s evolution into a No. 1 starter, the Cubs don’t win 97 games and two playoff rounds last year and begin this season as a World Series favorite.
“I don’t think we pay much attention to it,” Arrieta said. “We have high expectations for ourselves. Within the team, we know that everybody expects big things from us. We do as well.
“But we don’t harp too much on that. We know that the most important thing for us to do is to be healthy once the season starts and get our reps and be ready from Day 1.
“That’s the thing on the front of all of our minds versus the expectations. We know we have some big shoes to fill this year based on what we were able to do last year. But I think we can do that pretty well.”
Arrieta – who went five innings and allowed one Oakland run on two hits and two walks against five strikeouts – set the bar impossibly high during a season where he won 22 games, threw a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium and finished with a 0.75 ERA after the All-Star break.
“He expects it out of himself,” said Anthony Rizzo, the All-Star first baseman who played the piano in front of his teammates as part of the daily morning diversion at Camp Maddon. “Anything less would be disappointing for him, I know that. But he’s just got to go out and pitch and be himself.
“We (all) just have to go out and be ourselves.”
Arrieta didn’t look like himself last week at Scottsdale Stadium, giving up five runs to the San Francisco Giants and walking off the mound in the middle of the first inning and making a fist.
As alarming as it looked, that’s apparently old news now for Arrieta, who is still a great interview on just about any topic other than the disappearing blister on his right thumb.
“It’s exciting to get on the road and really start this journey,” Arrieta said. “Everybody’s been waiting for this moment. It’s approaching fast. It’s finally here. And to be the guy on the mound for the first one is something special.”