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' David Ross' plan for weekend off: watch baseball, hang out with his dog

Cubs' David Ross' plan for weekend off: watch baseball, hang out with his dog

The Cubs have a few unforeseen days off from playing after several new Cardinals tested positive for COVID-19 this week. 

With this weekend’s series in St. Louis postponed, the Cubs returned to Chicago, where they’ll remain until heading to Cleveland on Tuesday morning. They have a light workout scheduled for pitchers on Saturday and a simulated game scheduled on Sunday.

What will Cubs manager David Ross be doing otherwise with no games scheduled, though?

“Me personally, it’s just sitting on my couch with my dog and watching baseball and highlights and catching a game,” Ross said Saturday.

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Cleveland is coincidentally in town this weekend, facing the White Sox on the South Side. Ross has the opportunity to get an early look at the Indians ahead of their two-game series on Tuesday and Wednesday. They're playing on Sunday Night Baseball this week in place of the Cubs and Cardinals.

“We’ll definitely have baseball on, try to get a nice meal delivered and just hang out with myself. I’m pretty awesome by myself,” Ross said with a smile.


Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Millions of Americans have lost jobs or taken pay cuts because of the economic impact of a coronavirus pandemic that in this country shows no signs of going away anytime soon, including countless members of the sports media.

So despite some of the more laughably ignorant opinions from the dimmer corners of social media, exactly nobody in the media wants any sport to shut down again.

That said, what the hell are we doing playing games outside of a bubble during the deadliest pandemic in this country in more than 100 years?

With Friday's news that another Cardinals staff member and two more players tested positive in the past two days for COVID-19, the Cubs-Cards weekend series was postponed as officials scrambled to test and retest Cardinals personnel and try to get their season restarted.

The Cubs, who have not had a player test positive since the intake process began in June, have done everything right, from management to the last player on the roster, to keep their team healthy and playing.

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But the operative, most overlooked, word in all of this has always been “playing.”

And the longer MLB pushes through outbreaks, and measures the season’s viability in counting cases instead of the risk of a catastrophic outcome for even one player, the deeper its ethical dilemma in this viral cesspool.

“Ethically, I have no problem saying we’re going to keep doing this,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said over the weekend about asking players to continue working as the league experienced outbreaks involving the Marlins and Cardinals.

“That said, we have to do it the right way,” Hoyer said, citing the extra lengths the Cubs have taken to keep players and staff safe.

RELATED: Cubs better prepared than MLB to finish COVID-19 season — which is the problem

But even he and other team executives understand the limits of all the best-made plans.

“The infection is throughout the country. That’s the reality,” team president Theo Epstein said. “If you’re traveling around, there’s a real risk. Protocols are not perfect. No set of protocols are perfect. They’re designed to minimize the risk as best you possibly can.”

And while the odds for surviving the virus favor young, athletic people such as baseball players, the nearly 160,000 Americans killed by COVID-19 in the last five months include otherwise healthy toddlers, teens and young adults.

Add that to the best-known characteristic of this virus — its wildfire-like ability to spread within a group — and baseball’s attempt to stage a two-month season involving travel in and out of 30 locales starts to look like Russian roulette.

Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez, 27, contracted COVID-19 last month and as a result developed myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart — that might shut him down for the season even after multiple tests say he’s clear of the virus.

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, a fit, 39-year-old, recent major-league athlete, had a monthlong case so severe he went to the emergency room at one point for treatment before the viral pneumonia and high fever began to improve.

The vast majority of players insist they want to play, including Rodríguez, even after his heart diagnosis. More than 20 others have opted out because of the risk, including All-Stars Buster Posey, David Price and — in the past week — Lorenzo Cain and Yoenis Céspedes.

Obviously the owners want to play, with more than $1 billion in recouped revenues at stake in a season of deep financial losses.

“Everyone that I know outside of baseball who’s become positive, who’s gotten COVID-19 at some point, did everything right — washed their hands, wore masks, socially distanced — and they still became positive,” Epstein said. “They don’t know where. It could have been the grocery store. It could have been walking down the street.

“And as far as I know that’s the case inside baseball, too,” he added. “This is everywhere in the country and unfortunately going the wrong direction nationwide. It’s a fraught environment out there that we’re operating in, and we’re going to need to do our absolute best and also be fortunate.”