With changes looming, Jake Arrieta could be Cubs’ next ace
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter June 25, 2014 10:27PM
Updated: June 26, 2014 2:24AM
So if Jake Arrieta is this good, why did the Baltimore Orioles give up on the powerful right-hander in a two-for-one trade for a rent-a-pitcher last season?
Arrieta, the Cubs pitcher inspiring discussions about his fitness to lead the next incarnation of the rotation, blames himself for an early-career approach that put him on a performance roller coaster.
“To be fair to those guys, I did get a lot of opportunities over there, which I’m extremely grateful for,” he said. “I was just at a point during my career with Baltimore where I was living and dying pretty much with every pitch I threw. After a game, I would go home and I would beat myself up just miserably.”
The game got into his head. His head got in the way. And a kid with a golden arm couldn’t stick, despite earning an Opening Day start in 2012.
“Power arm, great stuff,” said Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, the Orioles broadcaster who watched with as much frustration as anyone else around the O’s organization as Arrieta showed flashes of brilliance followed by confounding struggles.
“His command was in and out,” Palmer said before the Orioles hosted the White Sox on Wednesday. “He didn’t have command and was in a lot of high pitch counts. We wanted [Scott] Feldman; he had pitched well, and we wanted to win. But any time you give up an arm like [Arrieta’s], down the road, if he ever figures it out . . . ”
It might be too early to tell for sure, but Arrieta thinks he has done that, starting with his final few weeks at Class AAA Norfolk last summer in the Orioles’ organization. He developed a short-term baseball memory and found peace at home with his wife and two young kids instead of obsessing over a bad start.
“It’s a hard battle to fight with yourself internally,” he said before the Cubs lost 4-1 to the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night.
It’s a battle he seems to be winning, even if it only has been 10 starts this season and 19 total as a Cub. If this is who Arrieta is going forward, then the Cubs have a key piece of their rotation remaining after they trade away ace Jeff Samardzija and flip guy Jason Hammel in their sell-off next month.
The guy who took a perfect game into the seventh inning against Cincinnati on Tuesday has gone 8-3 with a 2.82 ERA in those 19 starts for a team that has spent only one day out of last place during his time in the rotation.
“There are not too many guys that throw like Jake Arrieta,” Palmer said. “There aren’t too many guys that have that kind of stuff. I mean, power slider. … Sometimes part of it is pressure where your expectation isn’t meeting theirs or not even your own maybe. But considering the whole package, I found it very unlikely that he would not have success down the road.”
The Cubs saw the same “top-of-the-rotation potential” when scouts Jake Ciarrachi and Billy Swoope reported on Arrieta last summer, Cubs president Theo Epstein said. But the Cubs couldn’t be any more certain about whether it would show up than the Orioles.
“Sometimes a trade allows a player a mental fresh start and he blossoms, no fault whatsoever of the original organization,” Epstein said, pointing out the Orioles’ need at the time for more certainty in a pennant race. “I’ve been on both sides of that dynamic. It’s just something that happens in this game.”
Whatever happens next, Arrieta said he’s not out to prove the Orioles were wrong to give up on him.
“My motivation is to get as much out of my ability as I possibly can, whether it’s with the Orioles or the Cubs or with whoever,” he said. “I’ve always known what I’ve been capable of, and it’s just been how do I tap into that? I feel like finally I’m figuring out how to do that.”
Contributing: Daryl Van Schouwen