Cubs

Jake Arrieta begins contract season by shutting down Cardinals and giving Cubs flashbacks to Cy Young year

Jake Arrieta begins contract season by shutting down Cardinals and giving Cubs flashbacks to Cy Young year

 

ST. LOUIS — Whatever happens from here, Jake Arrieta will always be remembered as a Cub, for the way he lifted the entire franchise during his Cy Young Award season, silenced the Pittsburgh Pirates in that 2015 wild-card showdown and beat the Cleveland Indians twice in last year's World Series.

But Arrieta certainly isn't turning this into a David Ross-style farewell tour or a Boras Corp. countdown to free agency, not when the Cubs have enough blue-chip talent, big-market resources and playoff experience to become the first team to defend a World Series title since the three-peat New York Yankees (1998, 1999, 2000).

As Arrieta struck out five of the first seven St. Louis Cardinals he faced on Tuesday night, he gave manager Joe Maddon flashbacks to when he dominated like Bob Gibson and became must-see TV for the no-hitter possibilities. What might be Arrieta's final season in a Cubs uniform began with a sharp 2-1 victory in front of another sellout crowd at Busch Stadium.

"Jake really looked good from the side," Maddon said. "The ball was moving a lot. It was very reminiscent of a couple years ago, his strike-throwing and the way the hitters reacted to the pitch."

Getting off to a good start is important for a Cubs team that will have to fend off the Cardinals and wants to be well-rested and peaking by October — as well as a pitcher super-agent Scott Boras has compared to $210 million Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer.

"It's not a distraction at all," Arrieta said. "The only thing I'm focused on is the other 24 guys in this clubhouse and the handful of other guys that will be a part of us at some point throughout the season. We got guys like Ian Happ who are waiting in the wings and will probably be a big part of our season this year.

"My contract is an ancillary part of just the game of baseball. It's part of the business side of it. But my focus is just to be here for the guys in the clubhouse and help us win another championship."

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Arrieta retired nine Cardinals in a row and 12 of the first 13 batters he faced before minimizing the damage in the fifth inning. That's when Stephen Piscotty got hit three different times — with an Arrieta pitch, while stealing second base and after hustling on a chopper to the right side of the infield. Arrieta didn't stop the ball. Javier Baez bobbled it and then fired toward home plate, drilling Piscotty's helmet and knocking him out of the game.

The Cubs clapped for Piscotty, who had been facedown in the dirt before walking off the field, the day after the Cardinals announced his six-year, $33.5 million contract extension. Arrieta only allowed that unearned run across six innings before handing the game over to a bullpen built for October. Koji Uehara, Pedro Strop and Wade Davis combined to get the final nine outs as the Cubs got even with the Cardinals after a one-run Opening Night loss that showed this rivalry still has some juice.

Arrieta's transformation into an ace helped swing the balance of power in the National League Central. It's only Game 2, but Arrieta could already feel flashes of 2015 against a strong St. Louis lineup.

"It started out that way, really crisp with everything," Arrieta said. "The sinker was moving a lot, the command of breaking balls was pretty on point. It got a little sloppy in the fifth and sixth. I got ahead of myself. The effort level was too much. I started rotating laterally a little too much versus trying to stay on top of the ball.

"But that's OK. Those are things that I'll continue to work through and try and get those things under control as I progress throughout the season.

"For the first one, it was really good."

 

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

The last time Jake Arrieta pitched at Wrigley Field, his night ended with Cubs fans giving him a rousing standing ovation. The former Cubs right hander tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, leading the Cubs to victory in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS—their only win against the Los Angeles Dodgers that series.

Arrieta returned to Wrigley Field as a visitor on Monday night, making his first start against the Cubs since joining the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Ironically, Arrieta’s counterpart for the night was Yu Darvish, who ultimately replaced Arrieta in the Cubs starting rotation.

Despite now donning Phillies red, Cubs fans once again showed their love for Arrieta, giving him a lengthy standing ovation ahead of his first plate appearance. Darvish even stepped off the mound in respect for the moment.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters postgame. “[I’m] very happy that our fans would acknowledge him like that. Yu stepped away from the mound nicely. Jake deserved it.”

Arrieta tipped his helmet in appreciation for the crowd, taking in the moment for more than 30 seconds before stepping into the batter’s box. After the game, he told reporters that moment brought back memories of his time with the Cubs.

“That was something that really brought back great memories of getting that same sort of ovation pretty much on a nightly basis,” Arrieta said. “[I’m] very appreciative of that. I can’t say thank you enough to the city of Chicago, I really can’t.”

Arrieta took fans back to his Cubs tenure on Monday, throwing six innings of one run ball in the Phillies’ 5-4 10-inning win. Although the 33-year-old didn’t pick up the victory, he matched Darvish—who threw six innings of three-run ball—pitch by-pitch.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler noted how well Arrieta handled his emotions throughout the night.

“I thought he handled the emotions really well. I thought he was in control of the game even when we were down,” Kapler said to reporters. “He always maintained his poise and he just got stronger as the outing went on and that’s why we were able to have him take down the sixth inning for us.”

It’s well-documented how Arrieta’s career improved for the better after the Cubs acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles in July 2013. When the Cubs acquired him, Arrieta held a career 5.46 ERA in 69 games (63 starts). He finished his Cubs career with a 2.73 ERA in 128 regular season starts. He also won five postseason games with the Cubs, including Games 2 and 6 of the 2016 World Series.

Despite moving on in free agency, Arrieta spoke highly of his time with the Cubs, their fans and the city of Chicago.

“Cubs fans all across the country, all across the world, they really respect and appreciate what guys are able to do here for them,” he said. “It means a lot, it really does.

"I’ll never forget this city, the fan base, the organization, everything that they did for me. It was 4 1/2 incredible years of my career.”

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Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish was one pitch away.

Holding onto a 1-0 lead with two outs in the sixth inning, Darvish threw Phillies catcher JT Realmuto a 2-2 cutter. It made sense - Darvish had been spotting that pitch well all night, and the Phillies were averaging a paltry 79.8 mph exit velocity against it.

With one strike standing between Darvish and a 6-inning shutout, Realmuto took Darvish’s cutter and sent it back up the middle for a game-tying RBI single. A 2-RBI triple from César Hernández followed. In the blink of an eye, what was shaping up to be one of Darvish’s finest moments in Chicago was instead reduced to yet another start spent searching for silver linings.

“Really good. He was outstanding tonight,” Joe Maddon said. “He pitched really well.

“He had really good stuff. He had command of his stuff, he had command of himself. I thought he was outstanding - even better than what he looked like in Cincinnati. I thought that was probably his best game for us to date.”

Darvish has continued to lean heavily on his cutter this season, more so than any year prior. After throwing it 13 percent of the time last season, he’s going to that pitch almost 25 percent of the time now. If that holds, it’d beat his previous career-high, set in 2013, by six percentage points.

All things considered, that pitch has actually been good for him this season. It’s his go-to offering when he needs to induce weak contact, and batters are hitting .125 against it so far. He gets batters to chase cutters 29.5 percent of the time, the most of any pitch he throws. While he has admitted in games past that he relies too heavily on his fastball, Maddon sees no issues with the new trend.

“I have no concerns with that whatsoever,” he said. “There’s different ways for pitchers to attack hitters, and if it's successful, I really would not change a whole lot.”

Though the night was dedicated to celebrating one of the franchises most beloved pitchers, it was one of their most maligned that continued to show signs of figuring it out. He’s put together back-to-back starts with three or less walks for the first time this season, and has allowed two or less runs in three of the last five.

The pitcher even stepped off the mound during Arrieta’s first at-bat, in order to let the standing ovation continue on.

“He’s is a legend in Chicago,” Darvish said after the game. “And I pitched against him and pitched pretty good, so it makes me confident.”

The bullpen again struggled on Monday night, as the trio of Mike Montgomery, Brad Brach, and Kyle Ryan allowed two runs on five hits, including the game-winning solo home run from Realmuto in the 10th. For a moment it looked like the Cubs had a win wrapped up when Brach got outfielder Andrew McCutchen to bite on a two-strike slider, but was (probably incorrectly) called a checked swing.  He would eventually draw a walk, leading to Jean Segura’s game-tying single.

“On the field, I thought for sure [that McCutchen swung],” Brach said. “Looking at the first base umpire, I was a little taken aback. That’s why I went off the mound - just to regather myself, because I didn’t want to let the emotion get to me there.

“It’s a 50-50 call, and unfortunately it didn’t go my way.”

 

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