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Jake Arrieta back on the mound and mowing down hitters

MESA, Ariz. -- There are few athletes as confident as Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta. So when he took the mound Wednesday for the first time since Game 2 of last year's National League Championship Series in which the New York Mets beat him 4-1 -- partly due to his own fatigue -- Arrieta wasn't concerned in the least he would be back to normal.

"The ball was exploding out of my hand, so that was a really good sign," Arrieta said of his bullpen sessions before his game Wednesday. "I'm exactly where I thought I would be."

The NL Cy Young award winner threw two scoreless innings against the Cleveland Indians in a spring contest, striking out four and reaching 96 mph on his fastball. He threw cutters, changeups and curveballs en route to ousting all six batters he faced before calling it a day.

"It would have been OK to throw a third (inning)," he said. "There was zero fatigue."

"Fatigue" was a word used often in reference to Arrieta after he finally looked human last postseason, when he gave up eight runs in his final two starts of the year. His fastball velocity dipped and the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs. They'll take it easier on him this time around, knowing they want to go even further than last season. Arrieta threw nearly 250 total innings, about 92 more than his previous major league high.

"The competitiveness I displayed since I was a kid was full go last year," Arrieta said. "I didn't want to come out in the seventh or eighth, but at the end of the day, what's most important for our team is really what I care about. If that means only going 201 (innings) up until October instead of 230, I'm fine with that because we are more than capable of having guys come in and close the door."

Arrieta has been on board with the plan from the beginning of the spring; waiting a week to make his debut was not a big deal for him.

"I think the bullets will be more important in October," he said. "That's what I learned last year."

Arrieta is most happy to return to his starter's routine. He knows he's on the mound every five days from now until the end of the season. That means a rigid fitness and exercise program between starts.

"The timeline is laid out in a manner that's going to prepare me for Opening Day, and that's what I'm excited about," Arrieta stated. "Body control is incredible, the ball is coming out of my hand really good with really low effort, velocity is great. All signs are pointing in a really good direction."

As for that third inning he didn't throw on Wednesday, Arrieta was feeling so good he joked he would have walked a batter intentionally just to pitch with a man on base. Even so, he went 2-0 on the first two batters in his second inning.

"I didn't have the robotic mode on at that point," Arrieta said, smiling.

The confidence is back for the Cy Young winner who amassed the lowest second-half ERA in history last season. For two innings on Wednesday, he backed up his positive mindset with an array of pitches reminiscent of last year, reminding everyone why he won the award in the first place. He has finally been unleashed again and now he's ready for the next step. He ended the day throwing more pitches, but these were to his kids, who hit the ball better than the Indians did moments earlier. All signs point to a rejuvenated pitcher.

"No aches or pains or bumps or bruises," Arrieta said. "I'm ready to go."