The game-time temperature was only a few degrees above freezing on Tuesday, but Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta didn’t layer long sleeves under his jersey. Of course, he didn’t.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see me in sleeves,” Arrieta said after the Cubs’ 3-1 win against the Mets in the opening game of a three-game series.
As his offense took advantage of walks and errors to grab a lead, Arrieta held off the Mets to retain the edge. He allowed one run in five innings.
Maybe it’s the comfort of Wrigley Field’s April chill. Maybe it’s his return to health. Maybe it’s the mechanical tweaks the 35-year-old made to his throwing motion in the offseason and spring training. Whatever the reason, Arrieta has a 3-1 record and 2.86 ERA through four starts this season.
“We have high expectations for Jake,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “I think he has high expectations for (himself). … When he's right, he's one of the best in the game.”
Arrieta’s start to this season is comparable to his 3-0 record and 3.65 ERA four games into the 2017 season, his last in Chicago before leaving for the Phillies. That’s exactly what the Cubs have been hoping to do, recapture some of Arrieta’s success from his first stint with the Cubs.
Of course, such a small sample size doesn’t promise anything. In 2018, Arrieta started the season 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA. Hobbled by a mid-season knee injury, he finished the year 10-11, 3.96. But this year he at least seems to have rebounded from a disappointing 2020 season (4-4, 5.08), the culmination of an injury-riddled decline in Philadelphia.
That rebound has come at a crucial time for the Cubs, with the offense still finding its footing and the Cubs rotation as a whole pushing through inconsistency.
“He carries himself around the clubhouse, when he’s on the mound, around this group, with a lot of confidence,” Ross said. “And it stands out, to me at least. It's nice to have that solid foundation guy in your rotation.”
Arrieta has the rotation’s best ERA. He and rookie Adbert Alzolay (0-0, 6.10 ERA) are the only two Cubs starters who have yet to throw a complete dud. The Cubs optioned Alzolay to the South Bend alternate training site last week, but he’s not expected to stay there long.
The veteran group of command-control pitchers should stabilize. Kyle Hendricks’ three-inning Opening Day start and seven-run latest appearance were uncharacteristic of the right-hander who won the ERA title in 2016. Zach Davies had the shortest start of his career at Pittsburgh a week and a half ago. Trevor Williams gave up 10 hits and five runs to his former club – the Pirates know him better than any other team.
For now, Arrieta’s their anchor.
“I'm throwing the ball the way I expect to throw it,” Arrieta said. “There are things I could do better, for sure. But you take what you have at your disposal, and you use it to the best your ability and try and help the team win.”
Arrieta said he had a hard time throwing the curve ball Tuesday. So, he leaned more heavily on his changeup. The only run he allowed came on a solo homer in the fifth inning.
“I saw some really good swing-and-misses on the changeup even tonight,” Ross said. “That was the first time I've seen that. He continues to get better each time.”