By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) Perhaps as soon as Wednesday evening, the Cubs will wrap up the NL Central crown with a great deal of pride from their long regular-season journey and a few critical question marks as they ready to face the Nationals in the National League Division Series.
Foremost on that list of worries is right-hander Jake Arrieta, who Tuesday in his second start since coming off the disabled list with a right hamstring strain looked nothing like himself and had little in his arsenal to compete with. In an 8-7 loss to the Cardinals, Arrieta went three innings, allowing five runs, three earned, on six hits and a walk while striking out four.
Arrieta’s arm strength, leg strength and balance were issues.
“Things just weren’t working for him,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Sharpness-wise, I did not see anything overtly crisp — not the velocity or location. It was not his night.”
Maddon is known for finding the positive in nearly every situation, no matter how bad it is, so his comments regarding Arrieta hinted at the concern regarding his form as the playoffs loom. From early July until his injury in early September, Arrieta had been Chicago’s best pitcher. He had a 2.25 ERA in five starts in July and followed that with a 1.21 ERA in six starts in August.
Arrieta is in line to start Chicago’s regular-season finale at Cincinnati. The game itself figures to have no meaning for the Cubs, but Arrieta’s performance will likely be crucial in determining the playoff rotation.
Arrieta needs to build his stamina and showcase better form.
“It will be difficult,” Maddon said of increasing the pitch count for Arrieta, who threw 67 pitches Tuesday. “We will see how he feels, then we will work it from there. That was a lot of pitches for three innings, I thought getting him out was the right thing to do.”
Arrieta wasn’t quite sure where he’s at after the difficult game.
“It certainly wasn’t the intended result,” Arrieta said. “It started out with a pretty extended pitch count. I am doing OK. I have had to adjust a couple of things in my delivery. It is still there a little bit, but I am fine. I am plenty healthy enough to go out there and compete and pitch at a high level. I had three strikeouts in the first inning on the changeup, so there was some good in there. I was not able to keep the pitch count down or throw enough strikes to have any say in the game.”
A side session Friday will be Arrieta’s next step toward building his strength up.
“He is not 100 percent,” Maddon said. “It not like he was before he was injured. He is Jake. He is very strong and in great shape. Let’s just let him have a couple of days off and bring him back again. He is just working his way back in.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.