By Mark Grote–
(CBS) “Lean On” by Major Lazer & DJ Snake is one of those songs that sounds brilliant in mega-speaker outdoor stadium audio. It barrels its way through every particle of Wrigley Field when it’s ace Jake Arrieta’s day. The Cy Young Award candidate admits that while he believes the lyrics are solid, he mostly just thinks it’s a cool-sounding tune. There’s no deep meaning to digest.
The brutally honest and supremely confident Arrieta is fresh off of his wild-card game shutout over the Pirates and scheduled to pitch against the Cardinals in Game 3 on Monday evening at Wrigley Field in an NLDS series evened 1-1.
Ahead of that, we sat down for a few questions.
Grote: I recently asked Brewer’s manager Craig Counsell what it is that makes you so difficult to deal with. He said, “He’s able to repeat four-plus pitches whenever he wants. That’s a lot for a hitter to handle. Almost too much for a hitter to handle.”
How do you react to praise like that?
Arrieta: It’s extremely accurate. Any pitcher that is able to do that on a given night is going to be extremely difficult to deal with. And I don’t see myself as really gifted hitter, but being a National League pitcher, you get your at-bats and you develop an understanding of just how difficult it is to hit, especially if a guy has two or more pitches working. That’s something that really disrupts a hitter’s timing, and we all know how small the reaction time is to be good as a hitter.
Grote: Your manager, Joe Maddon, always makes a point of bringing up your mound demeanor — the menacing beard, the look in your eyes and the brim of your cap. Is that all part of your approach?
Arrieta: It’s me being the type of competitor I am on the field. Off the field, I couldn’t be more laid back. Nothing really bothers or upsets me, but once I strap it on and get in between the lines and start preparing for a game, it’s a completely different story. It started at an early age for me, and I can see the same signs in my son. Everything he does, he wants to win. I’m trying to explain to him, ‘Hey, sometimes your friends win. It’s OK to lose on occasion and learn from it and be a good sport.’ That’s just kind of the way I am in competition. I expect to win, and I prepare to win. For me, that’s the only way to go about it.
Grote: Are you also at the point where you expect to pitch at the level you have been every single time you go out there?
Arrieta: The more I’ve done it, the more true I really feel like those sort of thoughts are. But, I’ve always thought that. The last couple of years, I’ve really been able to put it all together, and the mindset that goes along with the preparation is one that has resulted in some pretty awesome things.
Grote: Everybody always said that you had the stuff, but did you know you could be one of the best?
Arrieta: I see the types of guys who pitch at that elite level, and I knew that I could be a part of that group. The process of getting there was a little longer than I would have liked, but there’s really no perfect formula for having consistent success at this level. A lot of the onus comes on the player being able to understand what they have to do to be able to perform at their highest level, and that’s something that can take a while.
Grote: Do you feel like Chicago is where you belong for the rest of your baseball life?
Arrieta: Chicago has done a lot for me. Coming over here, I was able to get back to who I was as a player and a pitcher. I was able to learn in an environment that was conducive to young pitchers developing their full potential and showcasing it on a consistent basis, and I’ve continued to build on that. And understanding the things I’ve been able to accomplish, but at the same time, keeping the focus on what we are trying to do as a team. I think that’s why some of the things I’ve done have taken a back seat, because of how immersed we are in a deep postseason run. It’s on the front of all of our minds, and it’s what we all have to be pulling for right now.
Grote: Do you get nervous before your starts?
Arrieta: It’s kind of like that butterfly feeling in your stomach. It’s not nerves. It’s a feeling you get because you care. It’s kind of the same thing before you take a big a test. I wanted to do really well. I cared about scoring highly on the test, and I prepared appropriately.
Mark Grote is the Cubs pregame and postgame host on WBBM. Follow him on Twitter@markgrotesports.