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.”
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.”