The Rundown: Arrieta Leads Surprising Spring Staff, Heyward Brings Wins, Báez Fears Fan Backlash, Bauer Bombed

The Cubs play the White Sox at Sloan Park today and it will be a big start for Jake Arrieta. Now that we have entered the final week of Cactus League action, this week’s games represent somewhat of a final tuneup for the regular season. Expect Arrieta to get one more Cactus League start after today, though it will probably be minimal work just to keep the right-hander on schedule.

That the Cubs were able to sign Arrieta this winter was somewhat of a coup for Jed Hoyer because the team was cutting payroll at the time. The former Cy Young winner seemed likely to land a contract from another team worth well beyond what the Hoyer was prepared to spend and based on his spring stats, there may be some kismet to Arrieta’s return to the team he led to a World Series victory in 2016.

The overall numbers hadn’t been pretty leading up to the starter’s triumphant homecoming. He continued to trend downward as his ERA in 2020 increased for the fifth straight year, coming in at 5.08 in his nine starts. His 16.8 K% was his lowest since his rookie season a decade prior, though he at least paired it with a decent 8.4 BB% and a 51.8% groundball rate.

The hope has been that Arrieta could serve as a consistent piece working as a fourth or fifth starter. He’s always prepared himself physically and getting in 160 innings across 25-30 starts this season doesn’t seem out of the question. That said, Arrieta has been very good this month and now finds himself solidly ensconced as the team’s number three behind Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies. The trio of starters will provide plenty of experience at the top of Chicago’s rotation.

In his outing against Cleveland on Thursday, the 35-year-old Arrieta allowed one run and four hits with five strikeouts and no walks across four innings. Those are 2016-like numbers and he’s doing it with an effective slider and above-average command. The type of depth, deception, and command Arrieta exhibits with his new out pitch, at least so far, will make it tough for batters to make solid contact. The punchouts are a nice addition for a team whose new philosophy is to pitch to contact.

David Ross has been impressed.

“The breaking ball looked great,” Ross said. “He was throwing it for strikes; he was throwing it for chase. [He] tried a couple of changeups. Some of those hits were on changeups; he’s still trying to get the depth on that. But, overall, I thought that was a really nice outing for him, and there were some really positive looks at a lot of the pitches.”

Arrieta (2.89 ERA this spring) and Trevor Williams (1.32 ERA) have been nice surprises, and Davies (0.00) has been consistently good since entering the bigs in 2015, though almost completely under the radar. With Shelby Miller (8 IP, 1.13 ERA, 10K) operating as a hybrid of sorts, Ross has a lot to work with. None of these guys look as pretty as their stats and each has his own set of flaws, but with what looks to be an exceptional defense playing behind them, the starting rotation may be much better than any of us has anticipated.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Further proof that just about any sports incident can be described with a song lyric. Also, if “Happy Gilmore” was a baseball movie.

“I’m a good ol’ boy
You know my momma loves me
But she don’t understand
They keep a-showin’ my hands
And not my face on TV.” – Waylon Jennings

Spring Training News & Notes

White Sox manager Tony La Russa still carries a bitter taste in his mouth over the White Sox’ loss to the Orioles in the 1983 ALCS.

The contract extension that Kansas City gave to catcher Salvador Pérez shows that the Royals are one of the few teams in baseball that leads with their heart.

Jorge Soler smacked a 484-foot tater against the Rockies yesterday.

With no DH in the National League this year, Brewers slugger Daniel Vogelbach may not make Milwaukee’s Opening Day roster.

Right-hander Zac Gallen was scratched from his start Monday afternoon due to right forearm discomfort, an alarming development for the Diamondbacks and their best starting pitcher just 10 days before Opening Day.

Yankees infielders Gleyber Torres and DJ Lemahieu have formed an inseparable bond.

Trevor Bauer came to the Dodgers carrying equal parts hype and baggage, but seems to have assimilated nicely with his new teammates.

A bunch of Dodgers fans pooled some money to purchase a billboard tribute to outfielder Mookie Betts.

Bryce Harper stopped for gas decked out in his full Phillies uniform.

A Marlins security guard armed with a trash can went out of his way to troll Astros infielder Alex Bregman.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Extra Innings

Is Bauer still pitching with one eye shut? If not, perhaps he should go back to that. The best thing about this video is Bauer getting creamed all the cheering by Mariners fans.

They Said It

  • “I’ve been allowed to struggle and go play because what I bring wins. 2016 showed that — the ultimate goal was winning the World Series. When I was on the field, I made a difference.” – Jason Heyward
  • ‘‘I’m more comfortable with myself as a leader. I think a lot of that has to do with just the organization and the people we have around here. They’ve always instilled confidence in me and told me to be who I am, be the pitcher I’ve always been. They haven’t forced me to be someone I’m not. Every year I’ve come in, it’s been more and more comfortable.’’ – Kyle Hendricks

Tuesday Walk Up Song

As Good As I Once Was by Toby Keith – Seems appropriate for Arrieta.

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