Nothing to hide: Cubs ace Jake Arrieta flattered by PED suspicions

Nothing to hide: Cubs ace Jake Arrieta flattered by PED suspicions

Jake Arrieta leaned back in a big reclining chair, his right leg resting comfortably on his left knee, showing off his Stars and Stripes socks, the laces to his Under Armour sneakers undone.     

“I’ve never had anything to hide,” said Arrieta, the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner who’s transformed the Cubs into a World Series favorite. “I know I’ve never taken any shortcuts and I don’t ever intend to.” 

The price of that success includes whispers about a Triple-A guy on the fringes of the Baltimore Orioles using performance-enhancing drugs to morph into the hottest pitcher on the planet. The rumblings got a little louder after Arrieta’s second no-hitter last week against the Cincinnati Reds. 

Jake’s response: Bring it on. Arrieta amplified the comments he made to USA Today before Tuesday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field, speaking for almost 15 minutes with the reporters crowded around his locker.   

“I’ve always been in good shape – I just sucked early in my career from a statistical perspective,” Arrieta said. “My body’s always been very similar to how it is now. It’s just the numbers and the results are different, so people want to question things. And that’s just kind of the nature of sports.

“It is somewhat flattering, especially when some of those comments are coming from some of the best players in the game.”    

Arrieta always believed he belonged in that stratosphere, even if it took a change-of-scenery trade from the Orioles in July 2013, or the middle of his fourth season on the Triple-A level. Arrieta had put up a 5.46 ERA in almost 360 big-league innings while trying to adhere to Baltimore’s one-size-fits-all pitching philosophy.

The Cubs allowed Arrieta to be himself, fine-tuned his natural mechanics and watched his confidence soar while going 20-1 with a 0.86 ERA across his last 24 regular-season starts.

“I guess everybody’s become suspicious,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But I just challenge anybody to go with him for his workout program for maybe – I won’t even say a week – I’ll say for two days. Just go keep up with him for two days and see what he actually does and see if you could (do it).

“What happened a couple years ago (in Baltimore) is always going to create that kind of suspicion when a guy’s a little bit above and beyond or extraordinary. 

“But with him – for those of us that are around him all the time – it is an extraordinary workout program. His focus is off the charts. And even actually prior to him being good, the numbers were the same back then, whether you’re talking fastball velocity, spin rate, all that stuff that was already there.”

Arrieta – who turned 30 during spring training and will face the rebuilding Brewers on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field – had enough raw talent to get a seven-figure signing bonus as a fifth-round pick out of Texas Christian University in 2007. He shined in the Arizona Fall League, pitched in the 2008 Summer Olympics and made it to the All-Star Futures Game that same year. 

Arrieta isn’t some overnight success story. He believes those PED whispers he hears come from a place of jealousy. 

“People like that just don’t appreciate hard work,” Arrieta said. “Maybe they expect things to be easy or things to just kind of fall into your lap without having to put in the time and the effort and everything that goes into it, the sacrifices you make.

“I pride myself on doing things the right way – and hard work – and doing things that will make my family proud. (PEDs are) really not something that’s ever been on my agenda.”

Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Astros bench coach Joe Espada has two days off before Houston hosts Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, but it looks like some of that time will be spent in Chicago.

According to multiple reports, the Cubs will interview Espada a second time for their managerial opening. MLB Network's Jon Heyman reports that the interview is happening on Sunday.

Espada is one of the more sought after managerial candidates this offseason, as he's spent the last six seasons with two of baseball's leading franchises. The 44-year-old has been Astros bench coach since 2018, and prior to that, he spent four seasons with the Yankees — 2014 as a front office assistant, 2015-17 as third base coach.

David Ross was the presumed favorite for the Cubs' opening, when the process got underway. However, by landing a second interview, Espada has clearly given the team something to think about. In fact, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan reported on Thursday the Cubs came away "exceptionally impressed" from Espada's first interview on Monday. 

MLB prefers teams not to make managerial announcements during the World Series. So, it might be a few more weeks before the Cubs announce their decision, unless they do so on Sunday or Monday.

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As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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