Cubs

Cubs still finalizing a plan for Jake Arrieta this weekend and beyond

Cubs still finalizing a plan for Jake Arrieta this weekend and beyond

Jake Arrieta will not take the ball Sunday for the Cubs in the final regular season game of 2017.

The Cubs have officially announced Mike Montgomery as the starter for the final regular season game, opting to give Arrieta some rest instead of pushing his hamstring in game action. That also means he may not pitch again until Game 3 or 4 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals and the Cubs have no concerns at the moment that Arrieta won't be ready to go in the postseason.

The Cubs locked up the division Wednesday night in St. Louis, so this weekend's three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field has a very spring training feel to it.

Arrieta admitted he came back a little too soon on Sept. 21, when he helped the Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers with five innings of one-run ball. That was just over two weeks after he walked off the mound in Pittsburgh clutching the back of his right leg.

"I wanted to be out there as soon as I could," he said Friday morning inside the Cubs Wrigley Field clubhouse. "I was able to go out there, but a couple more days would've been nice for recovery. We were in a spot where we needed to win some games and I wanted to be out there to do everything I could to help that out."

Arrieta is planning on throwing a simulated game at some point this weekend and the Cubs will go for a bullpen day Sunday after Montgomery, manager Joe Maddon said.

Arrieta said his mechanics are good, his arm feels fine and his strength is there, so he's not really focused on needing more time in bullpens. He wants to face hitters, but do it more in a controlled environment of a simulated scenario rather than in a live game.

He's still not 100 percent, though he's close.

"Really the only time I feel [the hamstring] is max effort on the mound," Arrieta said. "So it's good to get a couple extra days off, especially in the situation we're in — we're already in the playoffs. 

"Any time you're in the game, put a hitter in there, it's hard to take a step back. Especially at the time, we were still fighting to kinda secure our playoff spot. It's nice now to have a few days just to completely do nothing, work with the trainers, do some stuff for recovery, do some cryo, some hyperbaric chamber, all these different laser lights we have that promote healing and regenerate cell growth. 

"That's kinda what we're gonna focus on the next couple days and then get out there for a sim game and get everything tightened up. But other than that, I feel great. When my time comes, I'll be ready, regardless of when that is."

Arrieta isn't worried about his max effort, knowing he's in control of his body and has enough strength and knowledge to know how to back off his hamstring if need be and rely more on his arm. Like he said, it's not like he's trying to throw the ball through a brick wall.

By taking the rest route, the Cubs also have ruled out Arrieta to start Game 1 of the NLDS in Washington. In fact, the way things are shaking out now, he wouldn't get his first postseason start until Games 3 or 4 back in Chicago on Oct. 9 or 10.

"Part of the deal that we're doing would be to gain more time to make Jake well and then push him in the latter part of the rotation," Maddon said. "So it would not impact the front part of it."

Maddon didn't announce who his Game 1 starter would be in D.C., but Kyle Hendricks may be emerging as the favorite, especially after throwing five shutout innings Thursday against the Cardinals in his final start of the regular season.

However with Arrieta, there is no concrete plan beyond just making sure he gets some rest and back as close to 100 percent as possible.

That will mean at least the one sim game over the next week before the NLDS begins.

"You gotta exert yourself a little bit to make sure that it's well," Maddon said. "That's the tricky part of it - you have to push it a little bit. We're trying to extend the rest period before he does it again.

"And then when he does it again, he's gotta actually go out there and pitch. We'll see. Listen, I don't have any solid answers other than that's what we're thinking about doing right now. 

"We'll see how it all plays out. And then if it plays well, everything's cool. And if it doesn't, then you have to make another plan."

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

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USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.