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.”