Cubs notes: Jake Arrieta picks up where he left off in return to Wrigley
When Jake Arrieta re-signed with the Cubs over the winter, everybody was wondering if he could regain his 2015-16 dominant form.
In his return to Wrigley Field on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, the 35-year-old flashed shades of his younger self as he shut down the Pirates in a 5-1 Cubs victory.
Arrieta — who dominated the Buccos in Pittsburgh in the 2015 Wild-Card Game — pitched 6 strong innings Saturday, allowing only 1 run on a bouncing-ball single up the middle in the opening frame. He struck out 5 and walked 1 as he led the Cubs to their first victory of the 2021 campaign.
It was his first start at “The Friendly Confines” in a Cubs uniform since Oct. 18, 2017 when he beat the Dodgers in the NLCS.
Arrieta received a standing ovation from the 10,343 fans in attendance as he ran out to the mound:
“I’ve been anticipating this day for a while,” Arrieta said. “It felt really good. Even though there’s only 20% capacity, it felt like a lot more. Very thankful for the fans showing up the way they did, with the excitement and the energy. Even before the first pitch, they were ready to get after it. It was just like I remembered it. A little jittery to start, but a great day nonetheless.”
In the days leading up to his start, Arrieta took some time to enjoy being back in Chicago. He lives near the ballpark so he left the car with his wife and kids and set out on his electric scooter to get reacquainted with the neighborhood and interact with Cubs fans in Wrigleyville.
“I spent the last couple days riding my little scooter around the city, seeing familiar spots, getting recognized by some people, which were things that I really embraced when I was here before,” Arrieta said. “I like to get out in the city and see people, have conversations. The fans here are some of the best in all the world. That’s one of the things that I remember most is just passing by people, a brief conversation — the appreciation is very special to myself and everybody here.
“I think the more we embrace it, the better we are for it. I look forward to more scooter rides and meeting more people. With COVID, it’s a little bit harder to engage and have those conversations, but I think it’s really important for us as players to do things like that. I look forward to doing it more this summer.”
Kris Bryant spoke for Cubs fans everywhere when he said after the game that watching Arrieta turn in a strong outing against the Pirates brought back some “good memories.”
Between Arrieta’s outing, the warm spring weather, fans back in Wrigley and a crisp win, the Cubs left the ballpark with some good vibes Saturday.
“It’s a real treat to show up every day here to work,” Jason Heyward said. “When you can kinda get feelings of old in new time, I think that’s pretty special. Getting Jake back out here with his attitude, his mindset. As soon as he walks in the door on his day to pitch, he’s not an uptight guy. He’s loose and wants everybody to be comfortable and come out here and have fun and compete. Win, lose or draw, I think that’s awesome that we’re getting that from him.”
Arrieta and the Cubs know he’s not going to be throwing in the mid-90s this season like he was during his Cy Young run in 2015 but they believe he still has a lot left in the tank. After a strong spring and Saturday’s outing, he’s started down the path of making that narrative a reality.
Jake Day Part II
It’s only fitting that on Jake Day, another Jake — Marisnick — plated the Cubs first run of the game on a bloop hit to right field.
David Ross gave Marisnick the start in center field Saturday instead of Ian Happ and the veteran newcomer delivered with an RBI single in the bottom of the 2nd.
“We’ve got four really good outfielders that we’re gonna have to mix and match,” Ross said before the game. “I don’t want Jake to come from swinging the bat pretty well in spring to sitting and getting stale.
“We’ll try to find the right matchups for guys, rotate that through and trying to keep everybody fresh.”
Marisnick hit .409 with 4 homers in spring training and entered Saturday with four straight off-days after not seeing any time in Thursday’s Opening Day contest.
Happ figures to see the most time in center field but the Cubs love Marisnick’s range and defense out there and he brings a right-handed bat to the outfield group. Happ has experience playing both corner outfield spots, so that gives the Cubs some flexibility.
As the season wears along, Ross can utilize the depth at his disposal to get Marisnick semi-regular at-bats while rotating off-days for Happ, Jason Heyward and Joc Pederson.
Bryant will go down as the answer to a trivia question as he hit the Cubs’ first homer of the 2021 season. He connected on a 404-foot shot into the center field basket in the 3rd inning and pointed to his son, Kyler, in the stands after he crossed home plate:
It gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead and gave Bryant a big boost to his stat line as he aims for a bounceback season.
Javy Báez also had a big game in his bid to put 2020 in the rearview mirror. The Cubs star shortstop singled twice, drove in a run, stole a pair of bases (leading to the Cubs’ first run) and played his typical stellar defense behind Arrieta.
2021 All-Star Game
On Friday, Major League Baseball announced it would be moving this summer’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta.
The decision came after the commissioner’s office had discussions with The Players Alliance, the Players Association and clubs around the game about Georgia’s new law that restricts voting access for residents.
Ross — who played in Atlanta for four seasons — commended the league for the decision.
“It’s a pretty strong statement that MLB’s making and why they’re making it to support the equal voting rights for everyone,” Ross said. “I would definitely agree with that. A pretty big step for Major League Baseball to move the All-Star Game. Kudos to them.”
Heyward — who grew up in the Atlanta area — knows it was a very difficult decision for the league to make and is empathetic how it impacts those in the community who were looking forward to seeing the All-Star Game in their hometown. He is also very involved with The Players Alliance and understands there was no solution here that would please everybody.
“When you talk about a message, the people that are still out here pushing for equality, to have that decision be made without us, the players, really having much say-so, it was nice to see,” Heyward said. “‘Cause there’s a lot of things where we show up for work and we get what we get. We’re not really given much say-so in things. I think it was just nice to see someone make a move pretty quickly and try and do it in a positive light, knowing it was still a tough decision.”