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.”
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.”