CHICAGO – It’s the trade that might go down as one of the best in Chicago Cubs history if Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop keep pitching like they did Friday in helping their current team beat their former one, 4-1.
“At the beginning it was a little weird,” Strop said of his eighth-inning appearance against the Baltimore Orioles.
Strop got in and then out of trouble to help preserve the victory for the other former Oriole, Arrieta. As he has so many times this season, Arrieta was dominant, lasting seven innings while giving up just one run, a solo blast by the league leader, Nelson Cruz.
“Phenomenal seven innings of work,” manager Rick Renteria said.
Arrieta came to Chicago with Strop last July for pitcher Scott Feldman, who has since moved on to Houston. An inconsistent pitcher with a great arm who had struggled in the spotlight, Arrieta has blossomed into an ace. He took down a dangerous Orioles lineup -- many of them his friends.
“You think about it all the time,” Arrieta said of his time in Baltimore. “It’s part of my development. Those years are very important to me for a lot of reasons.”
That development has led him to this point: a 2.53 ERA in 20 starts this season after Friday’s effort. He’s 11-6 as a Cub after going 20-25 as an Oriole.
“Making adjustments on the fly, that might be the biggest (difference),” Arrieta said. “That’s something that I wasn’t able to do frequently enough in Baltimore. I’m getting to the point where it’s becoming second nature for me, so it feels good.”
It’s also becoming second nature for Arrieta to mow down opposing teams early in games. Once again he flew through the first few innings without giving up a baserunner. This time he retired the first 13 batters he faced.
“(He’s) just being more consistent,” Strop said of his teammate both in Baltimore and Chicago. “He’s been focused on whatever he needs to do.”
The first-place Orioles are doing just fine without Arrieta and Strop, but where would the Cubs be without them right now? If the Feldman trade hadn’t worked out there would be a big hole in the pitching staff. But the Cubs did their homework and now have a budding No. 1 pitcher who should be entering his prime, as well as a live arm in the bullpen. Arrieta's spring training was delayed because of shoulder stiffness, but that’s long forgotten.
“I don’t know if durability has ever been an issue for me,” Arrieta said. “I guess I’m starting to show why it’s not. It’s nice to pitch into games consistently.”
And now Arrieta is even starting to learn how to win without his devastating stuff. That would never have happened before. Walks would have ruled the day. He walked one Friday.
“Didn’t really have particularly crisp breaking stuff early in the game,” Arrieta said. “I recognized that and was able to miss around the zone and not in the zone, which was good.”
Arrieta missed down most of the time and wasn’t even upset at the one pitch that left the yard, calling it a “pretty good one” to Cruz. His ex-team managed little else.
“There was a little more to it being a former team, but after the first inning it was business as usual,” Arrieta said. “It was nice to see those guys.”
The feeling may not have been as mutual.