Cubs center fielder Ian Happ tracked back, paused in deep center field, then kept going until he was turning into the right centerfield wall’s lush ivy.
The ball fell into the first row of bleachers, and with that grand slam went any chance of Jake Arrieta having a bounce-back game against his former club.
“This sucks,” Arrieta said after the Cubs’ 15-10 loss to the Phillies at Wrigley Field on Tuesday. “Really, it does. But I'm not going to hang my head. … I still have a lot left in the tank. There's no question about that. The stuff plays; the execution’s not there. It hasn't been for a while.”
For the second straight start, Arrieta left the game with two outs in the second inning. On Tuesday, the former Cy Young winner gave up seven runs. Cubs manager David Ross side-stepped the question of what he’d do with Arrieta’s rotation spot the next time it came around.
“I’ve got to look at that,” Ross said before broadening the scope to his team as a whole. “Eleven losses in a row, there’s a lot to look at.”
Last week, after Arrieta’s six-run (three earned) outing at Milwaukee, Ross was already fielding questions about whether Arrieta’s rotation job was at stake.
“I don't know who we would replace him with,” Ross said then.
Now, right-hander Trevor Williams is at least lined up for a potential start Sunday against the Cardinals. Returning from the IL on Tuesday, Williams allowed seven runs (three earned) in 3 2/3 innings of relief. His first appearance since undergoing an appendectomy in late May was a marginal improvement on Arrieta’s start.
“I still feel like there's a better version of him in there somewhere,” Ross said of Arrieta. “I think it's on him and us to try to figure out how to unlock that. I've seen too many good outings to believe this version of him. Maybe that's me being naïve, but I know that there's more in there.”
Arrieta returned to Chicago as a free agent this offseason after three injury-riddled years with the Phillies. The Cubs posed the theory that they could, as the club most familiar with Arrieta’s successes, set him back on track.
During an April in which Arrieta recorded a 2.57 ERA before a short start with a cut thumb, it seemed they might have been right. Arrieta’s first start back from the IL was promising – just two runs in six innings – but he hasn’t thrown a sixth-inning out since. Arrieta’s last two starts have been the low point of a bumpy two months.
“He’s not going to stop fighting,” Cubs bullpen coach Chris Young told NBC Sports Chicago before Tuesday’s game, drawing on his experience with Arrieta both this year and during their time in Philadelphia. “He’s not going to stop trying to get after it. He’s not going to stop working. And so, he leads you to believe that every time out, that’s (going to be) the time he clicks and he goes on an incredible run.”
Tuesday was not that time.
The Cubs were down 4-0 before Arrieta recorded an out. A double, hit batter and single loaded the bases for Phillies cleanup hitter Andrew McCutchen. Arrieta threw him a fastball right down the middle of the plate. McCutchen hit a grand slam.
The next inning, Arrieta issued two walks, compounding the damage done by the hits he gave up. Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins was the last batter Arrieta faced.
Hoskins hit a fly ball to center field, in front of a diving Happ. The double tacked two more runs onto Arrieta’s final line.