Cubs: What to expect from Jake Arrieta in his first start of the year

(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

For the first time since the 2017 NLCS, right-hander Jake Arrieta will take the ball for the Chicago Cubs. He’ll start Saturday’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Pirates, hoping to help the team put a rough Opening Day performance behind them.

On Thursday, Kyle Hendricks lasted just three innings and was uncharacteristically wild. Those control issues proved costly early on, with Ke’Bryan Hayes following up a walk with a two-run shot in the top of the first. From there, the Pirates never looked back, cruising to a win despite a 3-for-20 mark with runners in scoring position.

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Like all his rotation mates, Arrieta will have to hit his spots to be successful. You’ll rarely, if ever, see the veteran blow balls by opponents at this point in his career. So if you remember what it was like watching him pitch five years ago on the North Side and were expecting more of the same, you need to tweak your expectations.

Last year, Arrieta relied on his sinker, throwing it more than half of the time. The four-seam fastball, which was a key part of his success in 2015 and 2016 is all but extinct at this point. Instead, he pairs that sinker with a slider, change-up and the occasional curve ball.

That changeup is a more effective pitch now than it was during his last run with Chicago, so I’d expect to see him try to put away more hitters with that pitch than you’re used to.

Cubs saw a lot of positives from Jake Arrieta this spring

This spring, Arrieta turned in four solid starts before really struggling in his final Cactus League tune-up against the Texas Rangers. In that start, he lasted just 2 2/3 innings and allowed four runs. Prior to that point, though, opponents had managed just four runs against him in 15 innings of work (2.40 ERA).

You might think at this point in his career, Arrieta might feel differently taking the mound on Saturday. But that’s not the case. The 2015 NL Cy Young winner is ready to go out and prove that he’s still got what it takes to get the job done at the big league level.

"“Nervous, positive energy, kind of that butterfly feeling that you got as a kid,” Arrieta said last weekend. “I still get that all the time. It’s a feeling that I hope never goes away. It’s a feeling that shows you care, it shows you’re prepared, it shows you’re ready to compete and leave it all in between the lines.”"

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No matter what, Saturday will be special. Arrieta holds a special place in the hearts of a lot of Cubs fans. Hopefully, he can turn back the clock against the Bucs – and throughout the 2021 campaign – as a key piece of the puzzle for Chicago.