CHICAGO -- It might have taken longer than some had hoped, but everything is finally starting to click for Jake Arrieta.
It all came together on Tuesday night, with Arrieta mowing down the first 18 batters he saw before finally losing his perfect game on Billy Hamilton’s seventh-inning leadoff single.
Arrieta was well aware of the stakes when he took the mound in the top of the seventh.
“I knew that’s kind of what was going on; most guys do when you’re in a situation like that,” he said. “Really, [I] just wanted to continue to execute pitches and try to pitch deep into the game. That’s really the only couple of thoughts going through my head.
“Nothing changes. It’s just kind of the way things worked out in the first six innings. Then you get to the meat of the order, and it’s tough to continue to put guys away like that."
All in all, it was a seven-inning, three-hit night during which he struck out nine and didn’t walk a single batter.
Arrieta had led off the Cubs’ half of the sixth by taking a walk and spending a lot of time on the basepath. Then he waited for the inning to end as the Cubs tacked two runs onto their lead. Add that to the fact he waited out a 53-minute rain delay prior to even stepping on the mound on a muggy Chicago night, and it’s understandable Arrieta fell short of perfection.
“I was pretty gassed there, unfortunately,” he said. “Pretty humid night, long inning there in the sixth, running the bases, which really isn’t all that tough in itself. But couple that with being on the mound and having that long layoff, and it adds a little bit to it.
“I left a couple of balls up. Bruce and [Devin] Mesoraco were able to put some good wood on it and drive in a couple runs. But for the most part, I was down with pretty much everything and commanding the ball where I wanted to, so I was able to do some good things.”
Arrieta’s entire arsenal was on display Tuesday evening. His curveball was crisp and being thrown for strikes, the fastball was touching 96 and his slider (or cutter, depending on who you talk to) was as devastating as it’s been this season.
“That’s the key for him,” Cubs catcher Welington Castillo said of Arrieta’s slider. “When he’s got that going, he’s really tough to hit.
“He can throw it front door to righties, too. He didn’t have that last year. That’s a good [pitch] that he’s gotten better and better.”
Arrieta’s slider has been working for him most of the season, and the results are the proof.
Arrieta has seven starts out of 10 in which he’s allowed one run or less. His command -- something he has battled with throughout his career -- is better than it’s ever been. He has walked more than two batters in a start just twice this season, and he’s down to a very impressive 6.5 percent walk rate on the year. His past four times on the mound have all been quality starts, and the big righty appears to be getting better with every appearance.
“Not a whole lot has changed; my mindset has always been the same,” Arrieta said when asked what eventually clicked. “It’s just finally becoming a little bit easy for me, I guess. It’s never easy to have success at this level. But I feel like if you do things the right way, you give yourself the best chance to go out there and have some success.”
Castillo, who was activated off the disabled list just a few days ago and hadn’t caught Arrieta since late May, had no desire to screw up a good thing.
“One thing that I told him before the game is, ‘Hey, I don’t want to change anything that you’ve been doing,’” Castillo said. “Just keep doing what you’re doing, because you’ve been throwing the ball really good. Whatever he decided to throw, I would put it down, because he’s been throwing the ball really good and I want him to continue that.”
Arrieta credited sticking to a daily routine -- no matter how tired or beat up he might be feeling -- for helping him find his consistency. That has helped him better understand his body and have a clearer idea of when things are off during parts of his delivery, all of which has led to him repeating his mechanics on a regular basis.
“I don’t really think about it while I’m on the mound,” he said. “I think about it a little bit while I’m going through my bullpen routine, but after that it’s pretty much just execute and let the cards fall where they may. If I’m able to execute for the majority of the game, then I feel like I’ll put myself and my team in a position to come out on top more times than not.”
Arrieta, along with rotation mates Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, has made a habit of putting the team in a position to win this season. The end results haven’t always been there, but not much blame can be placed on those three starters; they all sport sub-3.00 ERAs and have formed one of the strongest -- and most surprising -- trios in baseball.
Although Arrieta, who has three years left on his rookie deal and appears to be cementing his status as a part of the Cubs future, would love to team with Samardzija and Hammel for a long time, he’s well aware of the realities that face this franchise.
“Kudos to them for being in that position in their career to be sought after by so many teams,” Arrieta said when asked about the likelihood that he’ll be the ace of the team if and when Hammel and Samardzija are dealt over the next month. “I’ve always wanted to pitch at a high level for whatever team I’m with, and I feel like I’ll continue to do so and I would like those two guys to be a part of it.
"That being said, I don’t necessarily think that’s gonna be the case.”