Cubs ace Jake Arrieta feels ready for 250 innings this season


Cubs ace Jake Arrieta feels ready for 250 innings this season

MESA, Ariz. – Jake Arrieta is a reigning Cy Young Award winner, the Opening Day starter for the most talked-about team in baseball. The Cubs aren’t used to being the hunted, but that’s exactly what they are now, ready to take everyone’s best shot once they leave the Arizona sunshine.

“Well, I think I got everyone’s best shot last year, too,” Arrieta said. “Obviously, teams are going to want to beat us. Just like we want to beat them. I don’t think that’s going to change much.”   

Dressed in a tank top and his eyes shielded by sunglasses, Arrieta had his Terminator look going when he met with reporters after throwing four crisp innings during Monday’s 10-2 loss to the San Diego Padres at Sloan Park.

At Arrieta’s side stood his son, Cooper, who helped pour champagne into his mouth during that raucous wild-card celebration at PNC Park, creating a memorable snapshot from a complete-game shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Last year is over, but that won’t stop questions about 248-plus innings and what it means in 2016. Arrieta shut down his throwing program for a few weeks this offseason, allowing his body to recover and resetting his mind for an encore performance.

“Once I jumped into my training and started playing catch, it was back to normal,” Arrieta said. “The fatigue is just one of those things that you can’t necessarily account for. That innings jump was difficult. (But) I had to just deal with it by going through some fatigue at the end.

“Now, I’ve obviously bounced back and I’m in better shape than I ever have been. And I’m ready for another 250.”

[MORE: Could Kris Bryant be a free agent in 2020?]

Until last year’s breakthrough, Arrieta hadn’t completed a wire-to-wire season in the big leagues, maxing out at almost 157 innings in 2014. But he had no problem carrying himself like a top-of-the-rotation guy, which gave the clubhouse so much confidence on the days he pitched.

In front of 15,318 in Mesa, Arrieta struck out five of the 15 hitters he faced, allowing one run on two hits and two walks. Once a bubble player with the Baltimore Orioles, he can now focus on details like pitching from the stretch and sharpening his timing and tempo.

The Cubs will keep Arrieta in a controlled environment for his next start, lining him up for a minor-league game instead of having him face the Cleveland Indians on Saturday night in Goodyear.

From there, it’s only 16 days until Arrieta will be staring down Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels in Southern California.

“The arm strength is going to jump up a tic once the bright lights are on,” Arrieta said. “That’s kind of the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s what we’re all looking for right now – getting through it healthy and getting our pitchers built up.

“We’ll be ready.”

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

If baseball wants stars that transcend the game, they need guys like Javy Baez on the field MORE, not less.

That whole debate and baseball's marketing campaign isn't the issue the Cubs took exception with, but it's still a fair point on a nationally-televised Saturday night game between the Cubs and Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Baez was ejected from the game in the bottom of the fifth inning when he threw his bat and helmet in frustration at home plate umpire Will Little's call that the Cubs second baseman did NOT check his swing and, in fact, went around. 

Baez was initially upset that Little made the call himself instead of deferring to first base umpire Ted Barrett for a better view. But as things escalated, Baez threw his bat and helmet and was promptly thrown out of the game by Little.

"I don't think I said anything to disrespect anything or anyone," Baez said after the Cubs' 6-3 loss. "It was a pretty close call. I only asked for him to check the umpire at first and he didn't say anything.

"I threw my helmet and he just threw me out from there. I mean, no reason. I guess for my helmet, but that doesn't have anything to do with him."

Baez and the Cubs would've rather Little check with the umpire who had a better view down the line, but that wasn't even the main point of contention. It was how quickly Little escalated to ejection.

"We're all human," Baez said. "One way or the other, it was gonna be the wrong [call] for one of the teams.

"My message? We're not animals. Sometimes we ask where was a pitch or if it was a strike and it's not always offending them. I think we can talk things out. But I don't think there was anything there to be ejected."

Upon seeing his second baseman and cleanup hitter ejected in the middle of a 1-0 game against a division rival, Joe Maddon immediately got fired up and in Little's face in a hurry.

Maddon was later ejected, as well, and admitted after the game he was never going to leave the field unless he was tossed for protecting his guy.

"He had no reason to kick him out," Maddon said. "He didn't say anything to him. I mean, I watched the video. If you throw stuff, that's a fine. That's fineable. Fine him. That's what I said — fine him — but you cannot kick him out right there.

"He did nothing to be kicked out of that game. He did throw his stuff, whatever, but he did not say anything derogatory towards the umpire.

"...You don't kick Javy out. If he gets in your face and is obnoxious or belligerent or whatever, but he did not. He turned his back to him. That needs to be addressed, on both ends."

Maddon and the Cubs really want Major League Baseball to get involved in this situation. 

There are many other layers to the issue, including veteran Ben Zobrist having to come into the game as Baez's replacement. Maddon was not keen on using the 37-year-old Zobrist for 1.5 games during Saturday's doubleheader and now feels like he has to rest the veteran Sunday to lessen the wear and tear of a difficult stretch for the team.

There's also the matter of the groundball basehit in the eighth inning that tied the game — a seeing-eye single that just got past Zobrist as he dove to his left. It tied the game at 3 and the Cardinals took the lead for good the following inning.

Does Baez make that same play if he were out there instead of Zobrist? It's certainly possible.

"The dynamic of our defense was lessened by [the ejection]," Maddon said. "Again, listen, if it's deserved, I'm good. It was not. They don't need me out there, we need Javy out there.

"And it surprised me. I stand by what I'm saying. It was inappropriate. MLB needs to say something to us that it was inappropriate because it was and it could've led to the loss of that game."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 37th homer of the 1998 season was a big one, an opposite field blast off the front row of fans in right field and into the basket at Wrigley Field.

The eighth-inning 3-run shot gave the Cubs some insurance in a game they ultimately won 9-5 and the Wrigley faithful responded by throwing a bunch of trash on the field.

Earlier in the contest, Sosa tied the game with an RBI single in the fifth inning. He finished with 4 RBI, giving him 93 on the season with more than 2 months left to play.

Fun fact: Vladimir Guerrero was the Expos' No. 3 hitter for this game an dhe also hit a homer (his 20th). Now, Guerrero's son is nearing his MLB debut as a top prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system.

Fun fact No. 2: Mark Grudzielanek - who later played for the Cubs in 2003-04 - was Montreal's No. 5 hitter for the game at Wrigley. He was traded 10 days later from the Expos to the Los Angeles Dodgers for another fellow Cub - Ted Lilly.