PITTSBURGH — A Cubs team that has withstood a wave of injuries and surged back into first place just watched Jake Arrieta walk off the field, clearly in pain and looking for answers.
Could this have been Arrieta’s final start in a Cubs uniform? It’s way too early to assume the worst, or definitively say that the Cubs are in the clear. But walking into PNC Park’s visiting clubhouse after a 12-0 Labor Day loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, it felt like the defending World Series champs were breathing a sigh of relief.
“As of now, I don’t foresee it being much of an issue,” Arrieta said, standing at his locker and explaining what he believes is a cramping issue and not a serious hamstring injury. “It’s unfortunate, but I think it’s going to be OK.”
Arrieta felt a grabbing sensation while throwing his 51st and final pitch, hopping up and down, grabbing his right leg and bending over in discomfort with one out in the third inning. The Pirates already led 3-0 as a group of Cubs personnel huddled around the mound, observing Arrieta as he stretched and tried to simulate his throwing motion.
Arrieta wound up and started his unique delivery before a grimace instantly formed on his face and he realized he needed to shut it down. The training staff worked on the back of his right leg during the game and a Pittsburgh doctor examined a pitcher who said he’s never dealt with hamstring problems before in his career.
The Cubs will reevaluate the situation on Tuesday morning and decide if Arrieta needs to get an MRI.
“Everything looks OK,” Arrieta said. “It’s kind of a foreign feeling. But, yeah, I think it could have been a lot worse. No pop or anything like that, so that’s a good sign.”
The stakes are extremely high for the Cubs and one of the best pitchers on this winter’s free-agent market, a Boras Corp. client who will use his big-game experience and track record of durability to make the case for a nine-figure megadeal.
Arrieta has already proven that he can carry a team during his 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, and he beat the Cleveland Indians twice on the road during last year’s World Series. His performance as the National League’s pitcher of the month – 4-1 with a 1.21 ERA in six starts – helped fuel an August where the Cubs spent every day in first place.
The Cubs have already stretched out lefty swingman Mike Montgomery in a temporary six-man rotation. But Arrieta says he expects to make his next start, which would put him in play for this weekend’s showdown against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field.
“Based on how I feel right now, I would think so,” Arrieta said.
It was still jarring to see a player known for his supreme confidence and fitness/strength-training regimen walk off the field with an athletic trainer and disappear into the dugout. This is someone manager Joe Maddon once compared to a male Jane Fonda.
“We’re just going to wait and see how it plays out,” Maddon said. “Even when he was apparently hurting a little bit, he was still going through all the stuff and looked good. Stuff I can’t do on my best day, he’s like putting his nose on his knees.
“I’m thinking: ‘OK, it might be a cramp.’ So maybe it was a cramp. We’ll find out more tomorrow and the next day.”
Arrieta didn’t feel any pain building up and wouldn’t connect the dots from his injury to the two home runs he allowed, with Josh Bell driving a ball into the right-field deck and Max Moroff clearing those seats with one that didn’t splash into the Allegheny River.
But a Cubs team that just reincorporated a $155 million ace (Jon Lester) – and is still waiting for an All-Star shortstop (Addison Russell) and a frontline catcher (Willson Contreras) to come off the disabled list – didn’t lose any ground to the second-place Brewers (3.5 games back) or realize their worst fears with Arrieta.
“We’ll deal with it,” Arrieta said. “We’ll manage it. We’ll get through it. Like I said, I don’t foresee it being a serious deal. But we’ll see how I feel in the morning.”