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Saturday, September 7, 2013
Jake Arrieta stuck in neutral

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO -- Sometimes, Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta sounds and looks like he’s starting to figure things out, but then comes another frustrating outing and you’re left to wonder if he can be a big league starter for this team in the coming seasons.

Arrieta had a 2-0 lead on the lowly Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday but blew up in the fourth inning after walking two batters and giving up three hits.

The hits aren’t the problem, but three walks and a hit batter in his first four innings are.

“Obviously, it’s something we’re trying to get a grip on because it’s been a problem,” manager Dale Sveum said after Chicago's 5-3 loss. “A couple of good pitches, you get two strikes, and not being able to make a pitch to put someone out with.”

But Arrieta isn’t always even getting to two strikes. Both he and Sveum agree that walks are going to be part of the game, but after loading the bases with his second free pass in the fourth, Arrieta went 2-0 on Logan Schafer. The next pitch was sent to the wall in right center, clearing the bases.

“Went 2-0 just trying to be too fine there instead of pounding the zone,” Arrieta explained. “Bases loaded -- had to come at him. Left a sinker right in the middle of the plate. Just backed myself into the corner with those walks.”

Makes sense, but why go 2-0? Why wait to pound the zone with the bases loaded? Schafer knew what he was getting. Once again, it’s the pitches after the walks that are as frustrating as the walks themselves.

“[He’s] having trouble with his fastball control, period,” Sveum said. “He got 2-0, and you’re hoping to keep that ball down. He got it belt-high.”

Arrieta was asked what he can do before the damage is done.

“Raise my sights and aim for the middle of the plate with quality sinkers,” he responded. “When I try to go to the middle of the plate it never ends up there. Be more focused on the middle of the plate.”

Again, it sounds like he has the right plan, but the execution -- and then the realizing it after the fact -- is frustrating.

“It’s frustrating because it’s just a couple of pitches in there that cost me four runs in that inning,” Arrieta said.

That’s a statement any Triple-A pitcher trying to make it to the big leagues could say. “Just that one inning” or “just that one or two pitches.” It’s the difference between winning and losing, and it might be the difference between Arrieta taking his talented arm to the bullpen and remaining in the rotation next season.

Bogusevic homers: It seems like outfielders Ryan Sweeney and Brian Bogusevic continue to take turns impressing at the plate. Bogusevic hit his fourth home run of the season on Saturday, a line shot out to right field. The converted pitcher has never had a season of 500 at-bats.

“I think everyone wants that,” Bogusevic said. “That’s what you play for, to play every day.”

It will be interesting to see which, if any, of the two the Cubs keep for next season. Sweeney is more refined and complete as a baseball player, but Bogusevic might have more upside with his big bat. With the Cubs organization still in transition mode, there might be an opening for one next season -- either as a third or fourth outfielder.

“I think I can hit,” Bogusevic said. “I just want to do it every day.”