Jake Arrieta tuning out all the contract noise — and butterflies — in Cubs camp

Jake Arrieta tuning out all the contract noise — and butterflies — in Cubs camp

TEMPE, Ariz. — Jake Arrieta may be a Cy Young winner, he may have the best career ERA in a Cubs uniform since World War I and he may have given us the best second half performance the game of baseball has ever seen, but the dude still gets nervous just like everybody else.

The Cubs pitcher oozes confidence and welcomes the most high-pressure of situations on the baseball field, but that doesn't make him immune to a flurry of butterflies in the pit of his stomach.

For his first start in more than four months, Arrieta admitted as much in his spring debut on his 31st birthday Monday as he enters the final year of his contract with the Cubs.

"When you have a break like that, the first one's always a little jittery," Arrieta said. "It's good to get back out there in that environment with umpires, the opposition, fans.

"Butterflies, for me, is just an indicator that you care. It's something you're invested in. It's a first time being out there in a while. There's a little unknown, but you prepare for that and move forward. But I think it's a good thing to kinda have those nervous butterflies before a game like that."

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It took Arrieta only a couple pitches before the butterflies fluttered away.

"It was like, 'OK, I've done this before. It's nothing new,' he said. "But the time off is something that plays a part in that. I like it. It's something you get before every game, regardless of the circumstances."

Arrieta said he felt just fine physically, but had a couple things mechanically he will work to address in between Cactucs League appearances.

The toughest pitcher to hit in the league last year, Arrieta allowed five hits to the Los Angeles Angels across two innings, including a long homer to Jefry Marte.

He was more concerned with not overthrowing or acting like it was the middle of the season. 

He also insists he doesn't feel any differently in spring training at age 31 as he did in his early 20s.

"You hear age is just a number, and I believe it is," Arrieta said. "I take care of myself pretty well. Thirty-one doesn't sound great, but I still feel great and that's all I'm worried about."

Even though he's nearing the end of his standard prime years, Arrieta doesn't have much mileage on his arm as pitchers go, with less than 1,000 career big-league innings due to bouncing between the majors and minors earlier in his career.

He also is a supreme physical specimen and in such control over his diet/nutrition that eating pizza Sunday night as part of a birthday celebration made him feel "terrible."

As for his contract status, Arrieta is still determined not to let his impending free agency become an issue in the Cubs clubhouse.

[RELATED — Why Jake Arrieta's countdown to free agency won't become a distraction for Cubs]

"I think it has to [be ignored]," he said. "Not only because it's my mindset, but the 24-30 other guys in the clubhouse don't need to hear about my contract. It's just a distraction. 

"You're aware of it. I don't really harp on it. It's not something I sit down and think about at length. I just take it for what it is. It's a situation that many players have been in in the past and they've dealt with it just the same way that I will.

"It might not always be something fun to talk about, but I understand it's just a circumstance of where I'm at in my career and the time's coming to a point where it's either a deal gets done or I go to free agency and that's OK.

"It's kind of the business of the game, but really, I think the focus needs to be — for the next 8 months — being a Chicago Cub and trying to do the best job I can individually and help my guys be the best I can be."

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

If baseball wants stars that transcend the game, they need guys like Javy Baez on the field MORE, not less.

That whole debate and baseball's marketing campaign isn't the issue the Cubs took exception with, but it's still a fair point on a nationally-televised Saturday night game between the Cubs and Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Baez was ejected from the game in the bottom of the fifth inning when he threw his bat and helmet in frustration at home plate umpire Will Little's call that the Cubs second baseman did NOT check his swing and, in fact, went around. 

Baez was initially upset that Little made the call himself instead of deferring to first base umpire Ted Barrett for a better view. But as things escalated, Baez threw his bat and helmet and was promptly thrown out of the game by Little.

"I don't think I said anything to disrespect anything or anyone," Baez said after the Cubs' 6-3 loss. "It was a pretty close call. I only asked for him to check the umpire at first and he didn't say anything.

"I threw my helmet and he just threw me out from there. I mean, no reason. I guess for my helmet, but that doesn't have anything to do with him."

Baez and the Cubs would've rather Little check with the umpire who had a better view down the line, but that wasn't even the main point of contention. It was how quickly Little escalated to ejection.

"We're all human," Baez said. "One way or the other, it was gonna be the wrong [call] for one of the teams.

"My message? We're not animals. Sometimes we ask where was a pitch or if it was a strike and it's not always offending them. I think we can talk things out. But I don't think there was anything there to be ejected."

Upon seeing his second baseman and cleanup hitter ejected in the middle of a 1-0 game against a division rival, Joe Maddon immediately got fired up and in Little's face in a hurry.

Maddon was later ejected, as well, and admitted after the game he was never going to leave the field unless he was tossed for protecting his guy.

"He had no reason to kick him out," Maddon said. "He didn't say anything to him. I mean, I watched the video. If you throw stuff, that's a fine. That's fineable. Fine him. That's what I said — fine him — but you cannot kick him out right there.

"He did nothing to be kicked out of that game. He did throw his stuff, whatever, but he did not say anything derogatory towards the umpire.

"...You don't kick Javy out. If he gets in your face and is obnoxious or belligerent or whatever, but he did not. He turned his back to him. That needs to be addressed, on both ends."

Maddon and the Cubs really want Major League Baseball to get involved in this situation. 

There are many other layers to the issue, including veteran Ben Zobrist having to come into the game as Baez's replacement. Maddon was not keen on using the 37-year-old Zobrist for 1.5 games during Saturday's doubleheader and now feels like he has to rest the veteran Sunday to lessen the wear and tear of a difficult stretch for the team.

There's also the matter of the groundball basehit in the eighth inning that tied the game — a seeing-eye single that just got past Zobrist as he dove to his left. It tied the game at 3 and the Cardinals took the lead for good the following inning.

Does Baez make that same play if he were out there instead of Zobrist? It's certainly possible.

"The dynamic of our defense was lessened by [the ejection]," Maddon said. "Again, listen, if it's deserved, I'm good. It was not. They don't need me out there, we need Javy out there.

"And it surprised me. I stand by what I'm saying. It was inappropriate. MLB needs to say something to us that it was inappropriate because it was and it could've led to the loss of that game."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 37th homer of the 1998 season was a big one, an opposite field blast off the front row of fans in right field and into the basket at Wrigley Field.

The eighth-inning 3-run shot gave the Cubs some insurance in a game they ultimately won 9-5 and the Wrigley faithful responded by throwing a bunch of trash on the field.

Earlier in the contest, Sosa tied the game with an RBI single in the fifth inning. He finished with 4 RBI, giving him 93 on the season with more than 2 months left to play.

Fun fact: Vladimir Guerrero was the Expos' No. 3 hitter for this game an dhe also hit a homer (his 20th). Now, Guerrero's son is nearing his MLB debut as a top prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system.

Fun fact No. 2: Mark Grudzielanek - who later played for the Cubs in 2003-04 - was Montreal's No. 5 hitter for the game at Wrigley. He was traded 10 days later from the Expos to the Los Angeles Dodgers for another fellow Cub - Ted Lilly.