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(Photo by Stephen Green)
The following can be found in the September issue of Vine Line.
Jake Arrieta has been in this position before. Call it being the ace of a pitching staff. Call it being an Opening Day starter. Call it being a team leader.
He was all that a few years ago with the Baltimore Orioles. And he’s all that again now with the Chicago Cubs.
A lot has happened in the intervening years, of course, including a trade from Baltimore to Chicago and some time in the minor leagues, as Arrieta attempted to add a little more polish and command to his outstanding pure stuff. It’s all led to a dramatic career renaissance that once again has Arrieta acting as the No. 1 starter on a big league pitching staff.
Circumstances dictated part of his ascendance, to be sure. The Cubs set off some big fireworks this year on the Fourth of July when they traded their top two arms, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, to the Oakland Athletics for three high-ceiling prospects.
But Arrieta’s performance had a lot to do with it too. Even if the Cubs had kept Samardzija and Hammel, it’s becoming clearer with every outing that Arrieta might still have been the ace.
The 28-year-old hurler began the season on the disabled list with a shoulder ailment that accompanied him to Spring Training. He returned to the active roster in early May and quickly showed he was not only healthy, but that he was also becoming everything the Cubs were hoping for when they acquired him from Baltimore last July.
“I don’t really think that the shoulder issue to start the year out has much to do with my change of expectations or things of that nature,” Arrieta said. “It’s satisfying to be at peace with a team that’s going through some changes and [to be] able to have success on a consistent basis. All those things are good. I just want to keep building off every positive, and even the negatives, because there are things that are hard to learn from successes. It’s the complete opposite with your failures.
“When Rory [McIlroy] won the [British] Open, he brought that up. The top-echelon guys of every sport, whatever it might be, they have that same type of mindset, and I think it’s a good one to have.”
The Cubs obtained the fifth-round draft choice out of Texas Christian University on July 2, 2013, along with reliever Pedro Strop, from the Orioles for pitcher Scott Feldman and catcher-infielder Steve Clevenger. In Baltimore, Arrieta was supposed to assume the ace mantle—he was even the O’s Opening Day starter in 2012—but, despite top-level stuff, he could never find the consistency to cement a spot in the major league rotation. Over parts of four AL East seasons, the hurler went 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) in 69 games, including 63 starts.
After the trade last season, Arrieta was assigned to Triple-A Iowa to sort things out, but when the Cubs needed another starter after dealing Matt Garza to Texas at the deadline, Arrieta got the call to Wrigley Field. He spent one more short stint at Iowa, but finished the season with the Cubs, going 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA in nine promising starts.
At the outset of the 2014 season, it looked like Arrieta would slot in nicely behind Samardzija, Hammel, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson until the shoulder injury derailed his spring.
But when Arrieta finally did return to action, he did so with gusto, going 8-5 with a 2.82 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. Included was some serious flirtation with a no-hitter at Boston’s Fenway Park on June 30, when he went 7.2 innings without giving up a hit and earned appreciative applause from the Red Sox faithful when he was lifted for a reliever.
In the start directly before that, Arrieta was perfect through six innings against the Reds at Wrigley Field.
So that run of success naturally raises the question of what has changed. While many athletes deflect those sorts of queries and stubbornly insist they’re not doing anything different, Arrieta addressed the subject in his typically candid manner.
“Almost all of it is beyond the physical aspects of this game,” he said. “It’s more of the mental preparation and just the rearranging of certain thoughts—what’s important and what’s not. A lot of self-reflecting continuing to come to fruition. Things that you need to reiterate with yourself, positive things, negative things, and [then using] those to your benefit.
“If you can find out how to do that, how to bounce back, how to keep things rolling in a positive direction, regardless of success or failure, that’s what it’s all about. I think I’m slowly starting to figure it out and continuing to learn every day.”
No one knows a pitcher quite like his pitching coach does. Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio cited maturity as a big reason for Arrieta’s rapid progress—and he said it’s much more than just being a year older and wiser.
“I think it’s his routine,” Bosio said. “I think he’s found it. He understands what he’s got working for him on that day in his warm-up. As pitchers, we all tend to force the issue at times. But the awareness that he has—and I think that’s what we mean by the maturity as a pitcher moving forward—he knows what his weapons are. He’s able to read the hitters now.
“He made the statement to me that he feels stronger than he’s ever felt. To me, the biggest thing that really tells you in a nutshell [how someone is doing] is confidence—his confidence in all these things: how he feels, how his pitches are coming out, what he’s bringing every fifth day. He’s got an excellent workout in between his starts.”
At 6 feet 4, 225 pounds, with a blazing fastball, Arrieta is certainly a power pitcher, but not in the traditional sense. He features an interesting and somewhat mysterious repertoire. He has a 94-mph fastball, and a slow 79-mph curveball. But the pitch that’s really been turning heads—hitters’ heads in disbelief and Cubs’ heads in awe and admiration—has been referred to alternately as a slider-cutter or a cutter-slider. Nuance with various pitches comes from grip, finger pressure and the speed at which the pitch is thrown, but no one seems willing to definitively classify Arrieta’s out pitch.
According to the website FanGraphs, Arrieta has increased the use of his cutter from 6.1 percent to 28.6 percent and decreased the use of his fastball from 65.1 percent to 46.6 percent from last year to this year.
“He changes pitch to pitch,” Bosio said. “That’s the one thing that makes him so unpredictable as a power guy. One time, he’ll come with one pitch one speed, and it might be 83 or 84 (mph), and the next time he’ll throw it at 90 or 92. He keeps you guessing. The biggest thing with pitchers is we don’t want to be predictable. Being able to locate on both sides of the plate is pretty unpredictable when you’re able to change gears like that.”
For his part, Arrieta shrugs off all the fuss surrounding the mysterious pitch. He said it all goes back to that maturity and being able to confidently harness his stuff.
“I’ve always had it,” he said of the slider-cutter. “I’ve always shown it. I just never really showed command of it. I never showed enough command of my fastball to use that pitch in the situations where I can now use it comfortably in pretty much any count.
“I can change the break. I can change locations. I’m not perfect with it. I’m still working to become better with the pitch just as I am with all my other pitches. But it’s something I have a comfort level with. I’m able to trust it and let it go.”
It’s safe to say Arrieta is one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2014 season—not only for the Cubs, but in all of baseball. Getting over the command issues and recovering from the Spring Training injury both contribute to that, but Arrieta also possesses supreme faith in his stuff, despite his previous failures in Baltimore.
“His stuff is playing very, very well,” said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. “I know he’s commanding the zone. His ball is showing a lot of life. He’s able to control the movement, basically where he wants it to be. I think those are things that are starting to come to him more comfortably just because of his experience.
“Every year, your hope is that a player is able to take away something good from failure, so to speak, but continue to grind out and learn and just basically execute, and that’s what he’s been doing.”
One person not entirely surprised by Arrieta’s newfound success is Strop, who has watched his teammate grow as a pitcher in two separate organizations.
“I just think he’s been more consistent with the strike zone, with his command, because stuff-wise, he always had good stuff,” Strop said. “He’s using more of his cutter now than before, and I think that’s been a huge key in the difference. I always thought he could be a No. 1 starter on any team because of the stuff he has. Sometimes he’ll come out for an outing unhittable. It was something that was obvious. You could see that he could be that kind of pitcher in the future. He can be a leader of this rotation and this team. He’s a great kid and a hard worker.”
So what’s different for Arrieta? For the second time, he is getting a chance to be the ace on an up-and-coming team, but this time, he believes he has the skills to turn that opportunity into a consistently winning hand.
“It’s a situation, it’s a position that I’ve become comfortable with,” he said. “I haven’t been in this situation in a couple of years, but I know what it feels like. I know what it means. I know the importance of it to my teammates, the other guys in this clubhouse, to be a leader by action and also by demonstrating the will to help your teammates get better on and off the field. Those are all important aspects of being a leader based on performance and by being a guy in the clubhouse guys can go to.”
Arrieta once again finds himself at the top of a major league rotation, and he has no plans to relinquish that spot any time soon.
—Bruce Miles, Daily Herald
Javier Baez signs autographs at the 2014 Cubs Convention. (Photo by Stephen Green)
Individual weekend passes for the 30th Annual Cubs Convention will go on sale to the general public Tuesday, Sept. 16, at 10 a.m. CDT. Each weekend pass is $65 plus convenience fees and is valid for all three days, Jan. 16-18, at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers in downtown Chicago. Passes will be available for purchase by visiting cubs.com/convention or calling 1-800-THE-CUBS.
The 2015 Cubs Convention will feature Cubs celebrity guests including players, coaches, alumni and some of the organization’s top minor league prospects. A specific schedule of guests and events will be released closer to the date.
Attendees are still able to book rooms at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers by visiting cubs.com/convention or calling the hotel at 800-325-3535 and asking for the Cubs Convention rate of $187 per night plus tax. Hotel guests may purchase up to four Cubs Convention passes for a reduced rate of $20 each.
A percentage of the proceeds from the Cubs Convention benefits Cubs Charities. To date, the Cubs Convention has raised approximately $4 million for Cubs Charities.
Daytona’s season came to a close with a loss in extra innings Monday while Kane County had the night off before its championship series against Lake County. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:
Daytona loses series 3-1
Fort Myers’ Jason Kanzler hit a two-run homer in the 11th inning to break a 2-2 tie, lifting the Miracle to their first FSL title in its 22-year history. With the setback, the Daytona Cubs lost their first postseason series in team history.
- CF Jacob Hannemann (.250) and 1B Dan Vogelbach (.273) each recorded a double.
- DH Kyle Schwarber (.174), 2B Gioskar Amaya (.385) and LF Bijan Rademacher (.391) had a hit.
- RHP Jose Rosario (0.00) struck out five hitters while walking four in four scoreless innings of relief.
- RHP Stephen Perakslis (1-1, 3.38) suffered the loss, allowing two runs on three hits in three innings of work.
The Cubs unveiled their tentative 2015 schedule Monday, with the team opening up at home against the Cardinals on Monday, April 6. It marks the first time since 2012, and just the fourth time in 14 years, the North Siders will open at home. The Cubs will square off with the AL Central in Interleague Play this year. They are slated to face the White Sox a total of six times (at Wrigley Field July 10-12, at U.S. Cellular on Aug. 14-16). The team is also scheduled to host two holiday games in 2015: Memorial Day on May 25 against Washington and the Fourth of July versus Miami. Please note that the schedule is subject to change at any time. Below is the tentative schedule:
4/6: St. Louis, 1:20
4/8: St. Louis, 7:05
4/9: St. Louis, 1:20
4/13: Cincinnati, 7:05
4/14: Cincinnati, 7:05
4/15: Cincinnati, 7:05
4/17: San Diego, 1:20
4/18: San Diego
4/19: San Diego
4/27: Pittsburgh, 7:05
4/28: Pittsburgh, 7:05
4/29: Pittsburgh, 7:05
5/1: Milwaukee, 1:20
5/4: @St. Louis
5/5: @St. Louis
5/6: @St. Louis
5/7: @St. Louis
5/11: New York (NL), 7:05
5/12: New York (NL), 7:05
5/13: New York (NL), 7:05
5/14: New York (NL), 1:20
5/15: Pittsburgh, 1:20
5/19: @San Diego
5/20: @San Diego
5/21: @San Diego
5/25: Washington, 1:20
5/26: Washington, 7:05
5/27: Washington, 7:05
5/29: Kansas City, 1:20
5/30: Kansas City
5/31: Kansas City
6/11: Cincinnati, 7:05
6/12: Cincinnati, 3:05
6/15: Cleveland, 7:05
6/16: Cleveland, 7:05
6/22: Los Angeles (NL), 7:05
6/23: Los Angeles (NL), 7:05
6/24: Los Angeles (NL), 7:05
6/25: Los Angeles (NL), 1:20
6/26: @St. Louis
6/27: @St. Louis
6/28: @St. Louis
6/30: @New York (NL)
7/1: @New York (NL)
7/2: @New York (NL)
7/3: Miami, 3:05
7/6: St. Louis, 7:05
7/7: St. Louis, 7:05
7/8: St. Louis, 7:05
7/10: Chicago (AL), 3:05
7/11: Chicago (AL)
7/12: Chicago (AL)
7/14: All-Star Game, @Cincinnati
7/24: Philadelphia, 3:05
7/27: Colorado, 7:05
7/28: Colorado, 7:05
7/29: Colorado, 1:20
8/3: @ Pittsburgh
8/4: @ Pittsburgh
8/5: @ Pittsburgh
8/6: San Francisco, 7:05
8/7: San Francisco, 3:05
8/8: San Francisco
8/9: San Francisco
8/11: Milwaukee, 7:05
8/12: Milwaukee, 7:05
8/13: Milwaukee, 1:20
8/14: @Chicago (AL)
8/15: @Chicago (AL)
8/16: @Chicago (AL)
8/18: Detroit, 7:05
8/19: Detroit, 7:05
8/20: Atlanta, 7:05
8/21: Atlanta, 3:05
8/25: @San Francisco
8/26: @San Francisco
8/27: @San Francisco
8/28: @Los Angeles
8/29: @Los Angeles
8/30: @Los Angeles
8/31: Cincinnati, 7:05
9/1: Cincinnati, 7:05
9/2: Cincinnati, 1:20
9/4: Arizona, 1:20
9/7: @St. Louis
9/8: @St. Louis
9/9: @St. Louis
9/18: St. Louis, 1:20
9/19: St. Louis
9/20: St. Louis
9/21: Milwaukee, 7:05
9/22: Milwaukee, 7:05
9/23: Milwaukee, 7:05
9/25: Pittsburgh, 1:20
Kane County advanced to the championship series while Daytona suffered a setback in the first game of its championship series Thursday. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s minor league action:
FSL Championship Series
Daytona trails series 0-1
Daytona dropped Game 1 of the FSL Championship, falling at Fort Myers, 5-1.
- LF Bijan Rademacher (.800) went a perfect 3-for-3 with a run scored.
- 2B Gioskar Amaya (.462) went 2-for-4 with a double (3) and one RBI (1).
- LHP Gerardo Concepcion (0.00) tossed a scoreless eighth inning.
Kane County Cougars
Kane County wins series 2-0
3B Jeimer Candelario ripped a walk-off, RBI single in the bottom of the 13th inning to help Kane County sweep Wisconsin in the first round of the MWL playoff series, 4-3.
- Rehabbing 3B Mike Olt (.571) homered for the second-straight game, going 2-for-4 with an eighth-inning, two-run homer.
- Candelario (.600) finished 3-for-4 with two walks, a run scored, a double (1) and two RBI (2).
- LF Shawon Dunston (.375) and CF Trey Martin (.500) had two hits apiece.
- RHP Francisco Carrillo (1-0, 0.00) tossed 1.1 scoreless innings of relief to earn the win.
(Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
The Cubs recalled infielder Mike Olt from his rehab assignment in Single-A Kane County Friday. He will be available for the club this afternoon when it begins its series against the Pirates.
The 26-year-old Olt was a member of Chicago’s Opening Day roster and batted .139 (26-for-187) with 12 homers, four doubles and 30 RBI in 72 games before being optioned to Triple-A Iowa on July 22. Despite spending the last six weeks in the minor leagues, Olt is still tied for the National League lead among rookies in home runs and is tied for sixth in RBI.
Olt batted .302 (32-for-106) with seven homers, nine doubles and 24 RBI in 28 games before suffering a hamstring strain. He rehabbed the last two days with Kane County, hitting a home run in each game.
He was acquired by the Cubs last summer from Texas as part of the trade that sent pitcher Matt Garza to the Rangers. Olt was originally selected by the Rangers with the 49th overall pick of the 2010 draft (supplemental round).
(Photo by Louis Requena/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Pirates Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente was an icon for the game of baseball for what he did both on and off the field. Prior to Friday’s game, the Cubs will kick off upcoming Hispanic Heritage Month with a tribute to the life of former Major Leaguer with a special on-field pregame recognition. His son Luis Clemente, members from Clemente High School and the cast from the Off-Broadway musical ‘Clemente: The Legend of 21’ will all be on hand.
Clemente, a Puerto Rican-born professional baseball player spent 18 seasons with the Pirates, winning four batting titles and 12 Gold Gloves. He was the first black Latino player inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame after passing away in a tragic aviation accident en route to aid earthquake victims in Nicaragua in 1972. He was known for his baseball skills in right field and his charity work in Puerto Rico and Latin America.
The musical ‘Clemente: The Legend of 21’, now playing at NightBlue Performing Arts Company at Stage 773 through Sept. 14, celebrates the life of Clemente in the form of a “bio-musical” with a mix of Latin sounds and dance.
Members from the show will sing Friday’s National Anthem and lead the crowd in the seventh inning stretch with Luis Clemente.
Daytona advanced to the FSL Championship Series with a win, and Kane County picked up a victory in their playoff opener. Boise’s season came to an end Wednesday. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:
FSL North Championship
Daytona wins series 2-0
For the fourth time in the last six years, the Daytona Cubs were crowned the Florida State League North Champions. The Cubs scored eight runs in the first two innings to beat host Dunedin, 9-4. Game 1 of the FSL Championship against Fort Myers will take place tonight at JetBlue Park.
- LF Bijan Rademacher (.714) went 2-for-4 with a first-inning, two-run homer.
- DH Kyle Schwarber (.200) went 1-for-5 with two RBI. He recorded six RBI in two games this series.
- CF Jacob Hannemann (.400) and 2B Gioskar Amaya (.444) had three hits apiece while combining to score five runs.
- 1B Dan Vogelbach (.444) went 2-for-4 with a game-high three RBI (5).
- LHP Nathan Dorris (1-0, 0.00) tossed three scoreless innings of relief to earn the win.
Kane County Cougars
MWL Playoffs Series
Kane County leads series 1-0
Kane County recorded 13 hits in a 7-3 victory over host Wisconsin in Game 1 of the MWL Playoffs.
- Rehabbing 3B Mike Olt (.667) went 2-for-3 with a fifth-inning, three-run homer.
- DH Mark Zagunis (.600) went 3-for-5 with a run scored.
- C Cael Brockmeyer (.500) and CF Trey Martin (.500) had two hits apiece.
- LHP Tyler Ihrig (3.00) allowed a run on four hits while fanning four in three innings of relief to earn the save.
NWL East Divisional Series
Boise loses series 0-2
Boise’s season came to an end with a 5-2 loss at Hillsboro in Game 2 of the Northwest League playoffs.
- DH Justin Marra (.125) went 1-for-4 with a second-inning, two-run homer.
- CF Rashad Crawford (.429) had a game-high three hits, going 3-for-4 with a double (1).
- RHP James Farris (0.00) struck out three in two scoreless innings of relief.
Kyle Schwarber is the organization’s player of the month. (Photo by Aldrin Capulong)
A couple of first-round picks were honored for their strong efforts in August as Single-A Daytona catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber and Double-A Tennessee right-handed pitcher Pierce Johnson were named the organization’s Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Month for August.
The 21-year-old Schwarber batted .330 (34-for-103) with 20 runs, 14 walks, eight doubles, eight homers and 17 RBI in 28 August games for Daytona. He recorded a 15-game hitting streak from August 14-27, going 25-for-60 (.417) with nine multihit efforts and 14 RBI during that stretch. Schwarber hit six home runs and went deep in five straight contests, from Aug. 21-24. The left-handed hitter posted a .403 on-base percentage and a .660 slugging percentage, good for a 1.063 OPS, and was named the Florida State League Player of the Week for August 18-24.
In 72 games this season between Short Season-A Boise, Single-A Kane County and High-A Daytona, Schwarber hit .344 (90-for-262) with 55 runs, 39 walks, 18 doubles, two triples, 18 home runs and 53 RBI. He played 36 games in left field and 20 games behind the plate, throwing out 11 of 32 (34 percent) attempted base stealers. He also drove in six runs in Daytona’s two-game sweep of Dunedin in the first round of the Florida State League playoffs.
Schwarber is completing his first pro season after being selected by Chicago in the first round (fourth overall) of the 2014 draft.
Johnson, 23, went 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA (6 ER/31.1 IP), 34 strikeouts and a 1.12 WHIP in six August starts for Tennessee. He held opponents to a .186 batting average and a 1.72 ERA, fourth and fifth lowest, respectively, in the Southern League. From Aug. 3-15, he recorded three-straight scoreless starts, going 2-0 with 21 strikeouts and just six hits and six walks allowed in 16.0 innings.
In his third pro campaign, Johnson posted a 2.54 ERA (29 ER/102.2 IP) in 20 games (19 starts) between Kane County and Tennessee. He was 4-3 with a 1.80 ERA (13 ER/65.0 IP) and a .187 batting average against in his final 12 starts for the Smokies beginning July 2.
Johnson was selected by Chicago in the sandwich round (43rd overall) of the 2012 draft out of Missouri State University. He is 16-11 with a 2.68 ERA (69 ER/232.0 IP), 237 strikeouts and 103 walks in 49 career minor league outings (46 starts).
Daytona cruised in its first playoff game, but Boise put itself in an early series hole with a loss. Kane County had the night off and will start postseason play today. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s minor league action:
FSL North Championship
Daytona leads series 1-0
DH Kyle Schwarber hit a two-out grand slam in the fourth inning, helping Daytona to an 11-1 victory over visiting Dunedin in Game 1 of the FSL North Championship.
- LHP Rob Zastryzny picked up the win, giving up one earned run over six innings.
- Schwarber finished 1-for-5 with the blast.
- 1B Dan Vogelbach also homered, adding a double (1) to finish 2-for-5 with two RBI (2).
- LF Bijan Rademacher went a perfect 3-for-3 with a double (1) and three RBI (3).
- C Wilson Contreras singled three times and scored three runs.
- 2B Gioskar Amaya and RF Billy McKinney each added one of Daytona’s four doubles in the rout.
NWL Divisional Series
Boise trails series 1-0
Boise surrendered a one-run lead to lose to Hillsboro, 5-2, at home in Game 1 of the Northwest League Divisional Series.
- RHP Jake Stinnett gave up one earned run over five innings, fanning eight.
- 1B Alex Tomasovich led off the third with a solo homer to tie the game, logging the lone Hawks extra-base hit.
- 2B Bryant Flete (.250), LF Kevin Brown (.250), C-1B Daniel Canela (.250) and SS Gleyber Torres (.333) each singled.
- Boise committed four errors, contributing to two unearned Hops runs.