While minor concerns loom over the back-end of the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen this spring, one thing is certain, and that is Jake Arrieta.
A major point of emphasis surrounding the reigning National League Cy Young award winner entering the 2016 season will be his workload. Despite admitting to experiencing arm fatigue in the postseason last year, it was obvious to the casual baseball fan Arrieta’s $10.7 million arm had almost run out of bullets near the end of the 2015 campaign.
After logging a combined 248.2 innings while averaging 104.2 pitches per start, the 30-year-old ace is entering 2016 with a plan to save his right wing for a fresher postseason push. Prior to last year, Arrieta’s highest number of innings pitched in a season was 156.2 – which occurred in his breakout 2014 effort.
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The process has already started, as Arrieta’s appearances have been limited this spring.
Recently, in front of a solid gathering for a minor league spring training contest, Jake Arrieta threw five impressive innings against the Rockies’ Triple-A squad. According to a report by Chicago Cubs beat writer Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, Arrieta finished his outing in 60 pitches, while throwing 22 of 26 for strikes during a period of the contest.
Arrieta told the Tribune he was feeling good and that he, “easily could have gone 20 or 30 more (pitches).” While his effort level did not exceed past 80 percent, the effectiveness of his pitches was an indicator that his stuff was working — and working well.
The consistency is a plus more than anything now, as his command issues of the past seem to be a distant memory. Give a lot of credit to Cubs pitching coaches, especially Chris Bosio, in turning a once plummeting pitching prospect into one of the game’s elite. At this point, it seems Arrieta is ready for his Opening Day start.
“I could have started opening day today,” Arrieta told Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune.
The right-handed pitcher finished 2015 with a forgettable performance in the NLCS, going five innings and allowing four runs – two of which coming on a home run by the scorching hot Daniel Murphy. At that point, he was just about out of gas. But prior to Arrieta’s postseason performance, he finished his last 20 regular season starts with a ridiculous 0.86 ERA.
So, will he pick up where he left off in 2016?
“I am locked in like that,” Arrieta told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Yeah, I’m there. I’m right there.”
Realistically, you cannot expect another historically brilliant run of his ERA sitting under one for the majority of the year. However, Jake Arrieta radiates a certain confidence that sets him up to have much of the same success as he did last season.
Quick refresher: Arrieta in 33 regular season starts finished 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA and 0.865 WHIP, while accumulating 236 strikeouts and walking only 48 in 229 innings in 2015.
Arrieta will have plenty of bullpen sessions and in-game appearances from now until April 4 in Anaheim to fine tune whatever he sees fit. Until then, I guess we just have to continue the countdown until Opening Night.