Jake Arrieta looking to pick up where he left off with Cubs
MESA, Ariz. — When Jake Arrieta takes the mound at Wrigley Field sometime in the first week of the 2021 season, it will mark more than 1,200 days since he last toed the rubber in a Cubs uniform.
In some ways, that seems like too small of a number with all that has transpired over the last three years.
In other ways, it’s hard to believe it’s been three full years.
Arrieta and the Cubs are banking on that last perspective.
He returns to Chicago a more seasoned veteran now after three injury-plagued seasons in Philadelphia. Arrieta is the first to admit his performance with the Phillies left something to be desired and he aims to turn back the clock with the Cubs.
The soon-to-be-35-year-old isn’t trying to pretend like the last three years never happened, but he is also very focused on picking up where he left off in a Cubs uniform.
“There’s definitely a significant amount of comfort here,” Arrieta said. “There’s no question about that. But at the same time, as I was going through the free agent process once again, I can be comfortable anywhere. I would never want to make it seem like I’m not capable of performing at ‘fill in the blank.’
“But is it a little bit different here in Chicago? Of course. That’s obviously a huge benefit, not only for being familiar with the environment, the cities, the travel, but just the people around. There’s a lot of relationships that were developed over the past five or six years. Picking up where we left off is something that adds a huge benefit. And just working with guys that we all have the same goal in mind.
“All those things can lead to some additional comfort and there’s really something to be said for that. Being able to put that uniform on, wearing 49 again in Wrigley Field is gonna be pretty special.”
A central part of those relationships is manager David Ross, who actually caught Arrieta’s second no-hitter in 2016. The two spent time together over the winter and played a round of golf before Arrieta signed with the Cubs on a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2022.
Arrieta also has a good, longstanding rapport with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who was the run prevention coordinator during the veteran right-hander’s first stint with the Cubs.
Mike Borzello has now added “associate pitching coach” to his title and he is still an integral aspect of the organization’s pitching infrastructure. He immediately picked up where he left off by sending Arrieta texts with little nuggets of information and insight or to ask a question.
There’s also Chris Young, who is entering his second season as the Cubs bullpen coach and previously spent two years with Arrieta in Philadelphia as the pitching coach.
Arrieta has a lot of familiarity with the front office, as Jed Hoyer is now the No. 1 decision-maker and was among those who pulled off one of the most impactful trades in Cubs franchise history in July 2013 to acquire Arrieta and Pedro Strop from the Baltimore Orioles.
Then there’s catcher Willson Contreras, who was just coming into his own during the tail end of the veteran starter’s first stint in Chicago. Arrieta sees a more polished hitter and a backstop who has taken a step forward handling a pitching staff and calling a game.
He’s excited to work with the young, energetic catcher once again.
“I can just see the look in his eyes these last couple days,” Arrieta said. “He’s focused. It’s nice to see him smile. He gave me a big hug; he almost hurt me a little bit.”
Add in the other players still holding lockers in the clubhouse from Arrieta’s first tenure with the Cubs — Kyle Hendricks, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez, Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward — and it all lends to the belief that he could hit the ground running with his new/old team without much of a transition period.
Arrieta stated he wants to pitch for another few years and believes strongly that he still has plenty to offer when he takes the ball every fifth day. He also understands the effect his presence and perspective has on the rest of the group and has already taken Adbert Alzolay under his wing.
After a three-year run in Philadelphia where he sported a 22-23 record and a 4.36 ERA while dealing with a knee injury and bone spurs in his elbow, Arrieta has arrived at Cubs camp feeling like he has something to prove in 2021.
“There were some slight physical limitations but having said that, I didn’t perform the way I was capable of,” Arrieta said. “But I have a lot left in the tank. I have a lot to still accomplish in this game and I’m excited it’s going to happen in this Cubs uniform again.”