Even if he won’t admit it now, Jake Arrieta seemed to be in a midlife career crisis when the Baltimore Orioles traded him to the Cubs in the middle of the 2013 season.
Whether it was friction between Dan Duquette’s front office and Buck Showalter’s dugout, Baltimore’s overall pitching belief system or the burnout factor with a player the Orioles drafted and tried to develop, Arrieta needed a change of scenery.
Scott Boras sat in his front-row seat for Arrieta’s no-hitter on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium. The super-agent loves tweaking the Ricketts family and how the Cubs run their business side.
But on some level, Boras believes in The Cubs Way, specifically pointing to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and pitching coach Chris Bosio for helping his client harness all this natural ability.
“Give Theo credit, man,” Boras said. “He made the deal to get him. That says a lot, because Jake had raw stuff. But the philosophy that Baltimore brought on Jake was not his own.
“He came here, and they really let him be himself. It’s a credit to Bosio and, really, the organization. The minute he got here, he started doing what Jake can do.”
The Cubs cashed in Scott Feldman’s final 15 starts before free agency and threw in backup catcher Steve Clevenger to get Arrieta, hard-throwing reliever Pedro Strop and two international signing bonus slots.
This was Arrieta’s age-27 season — the fourth year he had spent time at the Triple-A level — and it certainly looked like his career had stalled as an Oriole (20-25, 5.46 ERA).
“Sometimes it’s somebody saying the right thing at the right time,” said reliever Tommy Hunter, who played with Arrieta in Baltimore.
Catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello does a lot of the heavy lifting as the Cubs put together game plans. A lasting clubhouse image is Borzello hunching over a computer watching video.
Bullpen coach Lester Strode — now in his 27th season in the organization — is a loyal soldier and widely respected in the room.
Bosio is a big physical presence and personality, with strong opinions and the credibility that comes from throwing a no-hitter for the Seattle Mariners against the Boston Red Sox in 1993.
“We try to let these guys do their thing and be themselves,” Bosio said. “Pedro Strop, for example: Where do you feel comfortable on the mound? Same thing with Jake.
“Just try to communicate with them. These guys know we care about them. But it’s important talking to them about what they want to do, what they’re comfortable with. And then work on cans and can’ts.”
Bosio made a point to say Arrieta deserves all the credit for his hard work, processing the data, studying the sequencing and learning which pitches to throw in what counts and how to slow down the moment.
“He’s been a huge role player for what I’ve been able to do,” Arrieta said. “He played for a long time — (11) years. He had a reputation as a no-nonsense type of guy when he was on the mound, pretty much exactly the way I like to depict myself.
“He was intense. So all these little characteristics he possessed — and still possesses — are things that I can use to my advantage.
“Along with Borzello and Lester, we just communicate on a really good level. And if there’s something that needs to be addressed, something we think we can be better at, we talk about it.
“The open line of communication is something that we both value. It’s been an incredible process that we’ve developed, and we’re going to stick with it.”
It’s hard to imagine where the Cubs would be without Arrieta, but Baseball Prospectus probably wouldn’t be estimating their playoffs odds at 93.5 percent.
Here are Arrieta’s numbers in a Cubs uniform since that franchise-changing trade with the Orioles on July 2, 2013: 31-13, 2.48 ERA, 0.984 WHIP, 394 strikeouts in 391-plus innings and one no-hitter with the potential for more to come.
“I even told my wife back in the day: When it clicks for Jake, he’s going to be goooood,” Hunter said, drawing out the syllable. “You tip your cap to a guy who’s worked the way he has and prevailed through all the tough times.
“I bet it feels like he’s on top of the world right now. And it should.”