“I am locked in like that,” Jake Arrieta said one day in spring training, cutting off a reporter who asked if the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner ever wondered about not getting back to the unconscious level that made him the hottest pitcher on the planet and in the history of baseball.
Arrieta keeps answering with dominant, must-see performances. This is an elite athlete who seems to be in complete control, understanding how his 6-foot-4, 225-pound body works and achieving a Zen-like state of mind on the mound.
You’re not at all surprised by now, watching Arrieta throw his second no-hitter during Thursday’s 16-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. Here are 10 takeaways from another unforgettable night:
• Remember the onesie: Showing up in pajamas for his postgame news conference at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 30 last year summed up Arrieta’s self-assured, team-first attitude, showing a national audience how Joe Maddon’s crew would roll onto an overnight flight back to Chicago and into the playoffs.
“It felt sloppy,” Arrieta told Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies on the Comcast Sportsnet Chicago broadcast. “My pregame ‘pen was as sloppy as it was in L.A. before that no-hitter, so I don’t put a lot into it. I came out just trying to mix. I was a little off with my command. But I was able to keep them off-balance, and later in the game pound the strike zone with some good movement.”
From the official Twitter account of the Los Angeles Dodgers: “Hey @Reds, Arrieta no-hitter support group meets on Mondays.”
• Unbeatable? Arrieta has now put together 24 consecutive regular-season quality starts, going 20-1 with a 0.86 ERA during an unbelievable run that stretches back to June 21 last year. His only loss came when Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter at Wrigley Field, six days before getting traded from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Texas Rangers at the July 31 deadline.
• The End: Hamels no-hit the Cubs for the first time since a Sandy Koufax perfect game in 1965, snapping the team’s streak of 7,920 games with at least one hit, which was the longest streak in modern major-league history. That bumped up the Reds, who had the longest active regular-season streak at 7,109 games, though Roy Halladay did throw a no-hitter against them during the 2010 playoffs in Philadelphia.
• Feldman! The Cubs honestly didn’t know what they were going to get when they flipped pitcher Scott Feldman and reserve catcher Steve Clevenger to the Baltimore Orioles on July 2, 2013.
The Cubs had good scouting reports on Arrieta’s raw stuff and strong work ethic, but reliever Pedro Strop looked like an easier mechanical fix and the deal also included some international-bonus slot money.
Until Arrieta came along, the last two no-hitters thrown by the Cubs were: Carlos Zambrano in 2008 vs. the Houston Astros in a game moved to Miller Park because of Hurricane Ike; and Milt Pappas – who died this week at the age of 76 – against the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field in 1972.
• This isn’t a Big Red Machine: That’s not taking anything away from Arrieta, just pointing out that as the Reds and Milwaukee Brewers follow that same rebuilding/tanking blueprint, the Cubs still have 34 games left against those division opponents.
Meaning Arrieta could have a chance to make history again, especially with an improved defensive alignment – young shortstop Addison Russell, All-Star second baseman Ben Zobrist, Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward – playing behind him.
• Don’t make plans for the All-Star break: Arrieta’s Cy Young encore so far – 4-0, 0.87 ERA, 26 strikeouts against six walks through 31 innings – makes him a leading candidate to start the showcase event on July 12 at Petco Park in San Diego.
• Silver Slugger: Arrieta’s athleticism and competitiveness means he’ll want that award, too, after San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner won it last year. After going 2-for-4 with a walk against the Reds, Arrieta now has an .879 OPS this season (to go along with the defensive skills that made him a Gold Glove finalist last year).
• Beat it, Javy: Arrieta has his quirks – that drives him through a fanatical workout routine and makes him such a great interview and it probably bothered some Orioles earlier in his career – but he doesn’t really come across as superstitious.
“I was cutting up with some of the guys about my at-bats, keeping it loose, having a good time,” Arrieta said. “I think that’s the smart way to approach it without getting too far away from what your goal is and what the objective is on the mound when you get back out there.
“Business as usual, other than ‘Javy’ (Javier Baez) was in my spot before the eighth inning, so I kind of gave him a little hell for that, told him to never do that again.”
• Grandpa Rossy can play: What a retirement gift for David Ross during his farewell tour, going 2-for-4 with a homer, a walk and three runs scored and catching his first no-hitter in a big-league career that began 14 years ago.
“That’s probably what makes it most special for me – giving him that in his last season,” Arrieta said. “That’s special. We’re hugging there at the end and he just kept telling me: ‘Thank you, thank you!’ It’s just a great way for him to go out, another box he can check now.”
• Scott Boras doesn’t do hometown discounts: Look at the other pitchers positioned to become free agents after the 2017 season – Tyson Ross, Alex Cobb and Michael Pineda could form the second tier of arms – and you can understand why the super-agent expects his client to hit the open market.
“Every Cy Young Award winner I know got a seven-year contract,” Boras said before Arrieta shut down the Los Angeles Angels on Opening Night.