By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The numbers tell you Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta isn’t the same pitcher he was at this juncture in 2015, but both he and the team’s front office should feel good with where he’s at a season after he dominated and won the NL Cy Young.
While command has been an issue for the 30-year-old Arrieta, he’s as fresh as he has been since the beginning of the season. His walks are up and his strikeouts are down, but the mission of throwing fewer innings this season has been a blessing in disguise..
The Cubs coaching staff and front office wanted a fresher group of starting pitchers going into the postseason in 2016. This mantra was preached from the time of the team’s last out made last October, through spring training and into this season. Arrieta was the high-profile pitcher identified for a less stressful innings load this season.
With two or possibly three starts remaining for Arrieta, the innings load will come in at around 200. This will be a decline of close to 30 innings from last year’s stressful season that that also featured 18 postseason innings on the ledger. Arrieta threw 248 2/3 innings in 2015 between the regular season and postseason.
On Saturday, Arrieta allowed four runs, three earned, in six inning while taking the loss as the Cubs fell 11-3 to the Brewers. He walked four and struck out five.
“I came out in the first and I was at 94-96 mph,” Arrieta said. “I know the strength and velocity is there. I was more focused on executing pitches with minimal effort. I was really working on (pitches) today to see where the comfort zone is. Action on all my pitches is really good. I am trying to avoid the unnecessary walks.”
Arrieta is 17-7 with a 2.96 ERA,which would be a really solid season for any starter in baseball. The catch now is Arrieta is being compared to the 2015 version of himself. That Arrieta was machine-like in his dominance. With just a little repair of the command issue, Arrieta may be back to the dominant beast he was for most of last season.
The proof? Foes are hitting just.185 against him. He’s the hardest pitcher to hit in baseball this season.
Thus the Cubs right handed hurler is the hardest pitcher to hit in baseball this season.
“My main concern is to find comfort with my sinker (two-seam fastball) in the strike zone first pitch,” Arrieta said. “After that, it opens up a lot of doors. We are certainly working on it. It has a lot to do with the batters in the box and my execution. It needs to be better early in the count. This will prevent guys from taking too many pitches and getting in 2-1, 3-1 counts. I need to tighten that up. I have a couple of starts before October. I just need to prepare for that. That is the mindset.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.