Cubs: Jake Arrieta dismisses critics, ready to move forward

Cubs: Jake Arrieta dismisses critics, ready to move forward

When Jake Arrieta was asked if too much has been made of his recent struggles, he didn't even need words to convey his thoughts.

Arrieta simply nodded his head and continued to nod until a reporter followed up with another question.

"Listen, last year, the run I went on was great," Arrieta said. "Wouldn't everybody like to pitch that way all the time? Yes. But if you're being realistic, regardless of how good you are, how well you pitched in the past, you're gonna have times where you go out there and you just aren't your best.

"The guys on the other side are good, too. You're gonna get beat. You're gonna give up runs from time to time. It just so happened to come in a three-start stretch where I gave up four, five and six runs. So it didn't look great. I wasn't happy with it.

"The results are what they are. But from my perspective, I want to continue to do what I have been doing in between starts and iron out some things. Find the rhythm, find the timing and transition that into the game."

Arrieta has been a daily topic of conversation on Chicago sports talk radio over the last few weeks between his struggles and lack of appearance in the All-Star Game despite he and the Cubs maintaining he was available if National League manager Terry Collins needed to call upon Arrieta.

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When asked if he might be overthinking his struggles, Arrieta immediately dismissed the notion.

"Well, the only time you hear anything is from the media. No offense to you guys," Arrieta said. "But yeah, would I have liked to be better in certain situations in certain games? Yes, of course. But, you know, still pitching pretty well."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon admited he didn't know what it meant to say the media was "making too much" out of Arrieta's recent struggles.

"You guys have been reporting on how he's pitching. That's just the way it is," Maddon said. "I don't know that too much has been made of it. I think from his perspective, he'd like to just get back to where he had been.

"I think that this rest will benefit him. You look at his numbers — they're still pretty darn good. His record's really good. I've been saying this for a little bit — I know there's another level of Jake to this season. We're looking for that to occur.

"But I don't know that too much has been made of it or not too much. It's just the way it is. It's just what's going on right now."

Maddon and Cubs are giving their ace some extra rest with the break thrown in, as Arrieta is lined up to pitch in the Cubs' fifth game of the second half — Tuesday night against the New York Mets.

His last time out against the Mets over the July 4 weekend, Arrieta lasted just 5.1 innings, giving up four runs on eight hits and a pair of walks.

He attributed some of that to bad luck, but there's no arguing Arrieta's results lately overall.

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In his last three starts, the reigning NL Cy Young winner has given up 15 earned runs in 16.1 innings, allowing opposing batters to hit .304 with an .898 OPS during that span.

In seven starts since the beginning of June, Arrieta is just 3-4 with a 4.81 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.

He already has almost as many walks (43) as he did all of last season (48) in 114.2 fewer innings.

Of course, Arrieta is still 12-4 on the season with a sparkling 2.68 ERA.

"When I'm walking guys, it's overly frustrating because they have a hard time doing a lot of damage if I'm just putting the ball in the strike zone," explained Arrieta, who also said he felt crisp in his last outing before the break against the Pirates when he allowed six runs in six innings but walked only one batter.

"It's just trying to find the balance, being in the zone early, trying to expand late. But the two sides I've thrown — throwing yesterday and throwing a couple days ago — and the workout we had before we got back here, I really like where I'm at.

"Things have really started to kinda come around for me timing-wise and that's really the struggle for me recently, was finding that timing and I think I'm right where I need to be."

Arrieta said not picking up a baseball for four days was "exactly what I needed" and also proclaimed his most recent bullpen the best he's thrown all year.

"Just kinda mentally putting things down and coming back to it a few days later is sometimes the best medicine," he said. "And not that there's any reason to panic. Being able to have that down time and experiencing the All-Star week like I was able to with my friends and family was a great experience."

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Expecting Jason Heyward to carry a team offensively would be thought as foolish just a few short months ago. But here in the middle of July, Heyward has turned into the offensive firestarter the Cubs have been seemingly missing since Dexter Fowler left. 

Heyward walked away from Thursday night's 9-6 win over the Cardinals tallying three hits, two RBI, two runs scored and his first stolen base of the year, as the 28-year-old outfielder continued to poke holes in the Cardinals defense. 

Twice Heyward was able to slip a ball between the 1st and 2nd basemen that off the bat looked like neither had a chance to make it through the right field side. Later, Heyward would battle through a lengthy at-bat, finally being rewarded with an opposite-field hit that drove in the game-tying run. 

"It just happened," Heyward explained. " [Carlos Martinez] is not going to give you a whole lot to do damage on throughout the game. I was able to get one pitch there and get a guy home." 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon mentioned Heyward and his ability to move the ball around the field and how it's helped him become an effective piece to this Cubs offense. So effective Heyward's batting average crept up to .290 after today's three-hit performance. 

Heyward credits his quick hands as the major tool he's utilized to create so many successful at-bats lately, which has allowed him to take advantage of certain pitches and punch them through for hits.

He's certainly not driving the ball for consistent power, but the approach has put Heyward on pace to match the 160 hit total he amassed with the Cardinals in 2015. 

"I feel like Joe's mindset on moving the ball is putting the ball in play when you got guys on base," said Heyward. "It keeps the line moving, regardless of the result." 

It might be crazy to think that Heyward's incredible turnaround this season might simply be attributed to putting the ball in play. But even just taking a look at Heyward's contact rates shows he's increased his contact on pitches outside the zone by roughly three percent.

Not a massive difference, but if Heyward's hands are truly giving him an edge at the plate, making contact with pitches that may not be a strike but are hittable pitches could explain the increased offense we are seeing now. 

"That's kinda the biggest thing," said Heyward. "The more good swings you take, the more hits you have a chance to get." 

Shooters shoot, and Heyward continues to shoot his shot and keep the Cubs offense chugging along.