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Jake Arrieta good with Cubs’ plan to limit workload

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Jake Arrieta good with Cubs’ plan to limit workload

MESA, Ariz. — Jake Arrieta had a stretch last year in which he threw at least eight innings in five consecutive starts. It came at a critical time, beginning with his no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers Aug. 30 and ending with a shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers Sept. 22. In that span, the Cubs lead for the second wild card spot went from a safe five and a half games to an insurmountable nine and a half games, and nearly allowed them to catch the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon, though, said this week he plans on reining in Arrieta from those lengthy starts in an effort to keep the defending National Cy Young winner fresh for an expected postseason berth. 

“From a psychological perspective, him completing games last year, him pitching deep into games last year benefited him last year and in the future,” Maddon said. “Now it’s up to us to monitor that to the point where, listen, you know you can do it, you’ve done it now and you know how good you are now, but permit us to protect you a little bit in the latter part of the game.”

Arrieta threw 229 innings over his 33 starts — an average of just under seven innings per game — before the 2015 postseason. He shut out the Pirates in that memorable Wild Card game at PNC Park, but struggled in his next two outings, combining to allow eight runs in 10 2/3 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets. 

The hope is pulling Arrieta after six or seven innings will help deliver more performances like he had in the Wild Card game and fewer like he had in the National League Division Series and National League Championship Series. 

Arrieta and Maddon discussed that plan earlier this spring, and it’s one with which the 30-year-old right-hander is on board. 

“I think those bullets that I do have left are going to be more important in October,” Arrieta said. “And that’s kind of what I learned last year. Obviously the competitiveness that I display since I was a kid was full-go last year. I didn’t want to come out in the seventh or eighth. 

“But at the end of the day, what’s most important for our team is what I really care about. If that means only going 210 (innings) up to October instead of 230, I’m fine with that. We’re more than capable of having guys come in and successfully close the door.”

[MORE: Cubs see self-awareness as key to Javier Baez's improvement]

Arrieta made his first Cactus League start on Wednesday, firing two scoreless frames against the Cleveland Indians. He struck out four and didn’t allow a hit or a walk in a game the Cubs lost, 5-3. 

Beginning with his start Wednesday, Arrieta will return to a normal five-day cycle as he builds up to being able to throw 85 or 90 pitches before opening the season against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim. Arrieta said he felt good enough to throw a third inning, but given all the work he’d put in prior to his first start, didn’t feel the need to push it. 

Arrieta may not be as warm to that acquiescent approach in the season, but Maddon said he’ll call back to the conversation the pair had in Arizona about staying fresh for October if he wants to push deeper into a start. 

For now, though, everything is on track. 

“I’m exactly where I thought I would be,” Arrieta said. “No aches and pains, bumps or bruises.”

How lessons from the KBO and Javy Báez can fix MLB's aging fan base problem

How lessons from the KBO and Javy Báez can fix MLB's aging fan base problem

The cheer master’s whistle echoed through the ballpark, and dinosaur mascots wearing giant face masks danced on top of the dugout.

With fans absent due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sunday’s scene didn’t quite do the Korean Baseball Organization experience justice. But it was still the league that taught Ryan Sadowski how to let loose on the field.

"I found that as a player I didn't allow myself to enjoy my success the way I should have because it's the game of baseball,” Sadowski told ESPN in 2016. “You're not supposed to show that you enjoy your success. I think it's something I learned here (in Korea), that I would take to younger kids in the States."

Major League Baseball is well aware that its status in the United States will continue to slip if it can’t figure out how to reach a younger audience. This summer presents an opportunity. If the players and owners can agree to a deal that makes the league’s early July target date a reality, for weeks it will be the only major sport on television.

Sports fans are clamoring for action after a months-long drought. What better time to draw in new fans? In that regard, the KBO could have something to teach MLB.

Sadowski is in a unique position to compare the KBO and MLB. He played in both leagues before becoming a KBO scout. Sadowski’s support for on-the-field expression is one Cubs shortstop Javier Báez would likely get behind.

Báez had a message similar to Sadowski's on MLB’s YouTube channel recently. In a show taped during Spring Training, Báez chatted with Puerto Rican recording artist Residente while running the Grammy Award-winner through baseball drills.

“In my personal opinion, I would like to teach young people growing up to enjoy [the game],” Báez said in Spanish. “And if they fail, fail having fun. And keep doing what is right. Let the kids play.”

Báez has been criticized for his playing style, most famously in 2018 when he bat-flipped after a popup. Afterward, former Pirates manager Clint Hurdle questioned Báez's “respect for the game.”

But Báez's huck wouldn’t have been out of place in Sunday’s KBO game between the NC Dinos and Hanwhu Eagles. The broadcast didn’t feature the kind of ostentatious bat flips that have become so popular on social media. But still, in consecutive innings, players on both teams tossed their bats several feet up the baseline to punctuate base hits. No uproar ensued.

The rate at which KBO bat flips have spread through Twitter speaks to a hunger for showboating among young baseball fans. Why not embrace it?   

“It’s not that it is not the correct way of doing it,” Báez told Residente of his playing style. “It’s just not the way many coaches teach it.”

In the United States, the NBA is the poster child for attracting millennial fans. In 2017-18, young adults led the league’s growth in ratings, according to Forbes. TV viewership among 18- to 34-year-olds was up 14 percent.

The NBA does an especially good job marketing its stars. Admittedly, the game lends itself to that strategy in a way that baseball does not. LeBron James can take over any game down the stretch, but Mike Trout isn’t going to get an at-bat every time the winning run is in scoring position.

But there are other ways NBA stars capture the fascination of young fans. Kids across the country grew up shrugging like Michael Jordan or pumping their arms and pounding their chests like LeBron James.  They take deep dives into YouTube, watching the most devastating dunks of all time – the more embarrassing for the defender, the better. None of that disrespects the game. The NBA and KBO have that in common.

MLB doesn’t have to adopt the KBO’s use of specific chants for each batter and embrace bat flipping for everything from home runs to ground outs – even though, by all accounts, those elements create a delightfully raucous atmosphere.

MLB doesn’t have to abolish baseball’s unwritten rules in one day. But an amendment is in order.

What if demonstrative zeal was instead embraced as a sign of respect for the game? After all, it might be MLB’s best hope of connecting to the next generation.

6 of Wrigley Field's worst 7th-inning stretch renditions in recent memory

6 of Wrigley Field's worst 7th-inning stretch renditions in recent memory

The seventh-inning stretch is a sacred tradition at Wrigley Field. Harry Caray passionately performed “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” every home game during his tenure as Cubs radio play-by-play man, previously doing so late in his tenure with the White Sox.

Caray died in 1998 and the Cubs have continued the tradition in his honor ever since, using a rotating cast of celebrities and former players as guest conductors. Last season, Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster performed at the Friendly Confines.

Some renditions are more memorable than others, though not in an endearing way like Cookie Monster’s. NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon sang 15 years ago Sunday, and not only did he refer to the ballpark as “Wrigley Stadium,” but also was off pace and didn’t really know the lyrics altogether.

Cubs fans showered Gordon with a chorus of boos, to which all he could do was chuckle and finish as fast as possible. 

Singing in front of 40,000 people isn’t easy, so it’s hard to be too tough on those whose appearances go awry. Nevertheless, guest singers know what they’re signing up for. On the anniversary of Gordon’s performance, here are five more of Wrigley’s worst in recent memory.

Mike Ditka — June 5, 1998

Well, Ditka certainly provided some energy. “Da Coach” didn’t take a breath in his 26-second blaring performance; perhaps he was winded from rushing up to the booth, to which he arrived a few moments late.

Ozzy Osbourne — Aug. 17, 2003

This isn’t a ranking of bad performances, but Osbourne sits atop the leaderboard anyhow. The Black Sabbath vocalist started off singing “Let’s go out to the ball game” before breaking into a mumble streak of made-up words. The look on Kerry Wood’s face summarizes things well.

Mr. T — May 25, 2009

It didn’t sound too good, but it sure was enthusiastic. Way to do your thing, Mr. T.

David Cross — Sept. 21, 2013

Hard to say what Cross, a stand-up comedian and actor, was going for here. He starred in three “Alvin and the Chipmunks” films and, fittingly, screeched into the mic a couple of times. Maybe it was all in jest? He ended his rendition by saying, “That was awful. I’m so sorry.” 

Scottie Pippen — Oct. 22, 2016

Pippen performed the stretch in the biggest game in Cubs history (at that point) — the pennant-clincher in 2016. The Bulls Hall-of-Famer was on tune to start before mixing up lyrics, then passing the mic to the animated Wrigley crowd. 

We’ll give Pippen a slight pass here, considering he brought six championships to Chicago during his playing days.  

With that, I'll leave you with this:

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