No surprise: Cubs giving Jake Arrieta the Opening Day start


No surprise: Cubs giving Jake Arrieta the Opening Day start

MESA, Ariz. - The drama is over: Jake Arrieta is the Cubs' Opening Day starter.

Not that there was much drama to begin with.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon announced Tuesday Arrieta would get the ball when the Cubs square off against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim April 4.

"Of course, he's very excited about it," Maddon said. "He's earned that right to be named that particular Opening Day starter.

"If you're a starting pitcher, it really carries a lot of prestige along with it. And he's earned it. We're very pleased to be able to announce that."

Arrieta is the reigning National League Cy Young winner, leading the league with 22 wins while posting a 1.77 ERA, 0.865 WHIP and 236 strikeouts in 229 innings last season. He also tossed four complete games and three shutouts, both tops in the NL.

Jon Lester started Opening Day for the Cubs in 2015, coming off the $155 million contract he signed before the season. But he wasn't surprised at all by Maddon tabbing Arrieta as this season's Opening Day starter.

"It's about time, right?" Lester said. "It's good. I'm more than happy for Jake. Once you get named, obviously you're very excited and stuff. But it's one of those days that kinda sucks. You got a lot of stuff going on.

"I think it's one of the hardest days of the year to pitch, personally. A lot of distractions, a lot of things going on, obviously. Everybody's very excited to get the year going. You're excited. A lot of outside things that are hard to control.

"But we all knew he was going to get that honor. I'm excited for him. It's awesome. It's a cool deal. It's something not a lot of people get to do, especially for organizations like this. It'll be a cool day."

This will be Arrieta's second career Opening Day start, as he also got the nod in 2012 with the Baltimore Orioles. In that game, Arrieta tossed seven shutout innings to pick up the win.

Lester doesn't think the past experience will necessarily help Arrieta deal with the emotions of opening this season with the Cubs.

"I don't know. I think everybody's different," Lester said. "For me, no. Every year, it's different. You have different years with different hype and expectations and you're coming off different years and all this stuff.

"I think there's a lot of other things that go into it that make every Opening Day kinda unique. No matter how many times you do, I don't think it makes it any easier."

Maddon wouldn't commit to the rotation beyond Arrieta, saying it would be "jumping the gun" to set the rest of the order in stone more than a month before the first game, before Cactus League action has even started.

However, he did allow that Lester and John Lackey are most likely going to follow Arrieta.

[RELATED - Cubs set pitching rotation for beginning of Cactus League schedule]

As it stands right now, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks are expected to fill out the rest of the rotation, but the Cubs have plenty of depth pushing those two guys, including Adam Warren and Trevor Cahill.

"I can't deny the incumbents coming back would have some kind of advantage. That's probably true," Maddon said. "You just have to keep an open mind. You can't be deceived by spring training performances.

"So let 'em play out. Of course, the incumbents have an advantage, but we're going to keep a really open mind going through the entire camp."

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


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 the 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 episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

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.”