CINCINNATI — Two years ago, Jake Arrieta may not have made it out of the fifth inning of Sunday's Cubs-Reds game.
But Arrieta has come a long way in the last couple seasons, maturing so much as a pitcher that he has become a frontline arm for the Cubs with a bulldog mentality each time out.
He showed that again Sunday, working around several jams and limiting the damage to just two runs in a 5-2 Cubs victory.
Arrieta looked like he was in cruise control early, setting down the first 11 in a row before the wheels started to come off. Reds third baseman Todd Frazier looped a home run down the left field line and Arrieta gave up back-to-back hits immediately after.
The 29-year-old righty escaped that jam, only to find himself in a bases loaded, no-out situation to start the fifth. But once again, he limited the damage, giving up just one run on a Billy Hamilton groundout.
"I sped up a little bit, got out of my rhythm," Arrieta said. "A little uncharacteristic there. But as things got a little more tense there, my emphasis was on not making a mistake. Damage control and making pitches to avoid the big inning.
"When things like that happen, a walk here or there to load the bases really wasn't my concern. My concern was limiting hard-hit balls."
That sounds like a guy who has developed a true understanding of pitching. It's another sign that Arrieta has figured it all out since Baltimore, where he failed to live up to high expectations as a top pitching prospect with the Orioles.
Arrieta is now 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA and 0.94 WHIP on the season. Since joining the Cubs' rotation in late 2013, he is 17-8 with a 2.72 ERA in 38 starts.
Given the way Sunday's outing started, Arrieta admitted he wasn't happy with the result overall, as he hoped to be able to pitch into the eighth inning.
[NBC SHOP: Get the latest Cubs gear here]
But he'll take the win as the Cubs cruised to a 4-2 road trip.
"Jake had great stuff," manager Joe Maddon said. "After the home run, it just seemed like he was off command-wise a little bit. But his stuff was still good.
"I really appreciate fighting through some tough moments. That's what you talk about when you say a guy doesn't cave in. And that matters, because you're not going to have your best everything every night.
"You've got to be able to win with less than your best, and he did. And that's really a tribute to him and his work and his mental focus, etc."