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.
"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."