You’ll take a five-inning start in LA with just two runs allowed to a powerful Dodgers offense any day of the week, particularly when it came from Jake Arrieta on Friday night. The 35-year-old righty had thrown just one good game in his previous five and continues to be viewed as having heavy potential to be bounced from the rotation should the Cubs seek help at the trade deadline. So could this recent effort change minds among fans and in the front office?
Maybe, but a look at some of the supporting evidence reveals more of a Houdini-esque escape job than a slick Vegas stage show from [insert your preferred illusionist here]. Arrieta was sitting 93 mph and touching 94 early with the sinker, but that velocity tailed off pretty quickly and was 2-3 ticks lower by the 5th inning. That’s not as much of an issue if we’re talking about dropping from 99 to 97, but the veteran has previous little room for error at this point in his career.
Case in point, he got just five swinging strikes on the evening on only his slider (4) and curve (1). That means neither the sinker nor change generated a single whiff despite making up 62% of his total pitches on the evening. So while Arrieta was able to get four swinging strikeouts, he could not put away any of the other eight Dodgers batters who faced two-strike counts.
The slider/cutter was his only effective pitch on Friday because he was able to sweep it across the plate and keep it near the corner of the zone. The sinker, however, was not true to its name as it remained thigh-high and right over the heart of the plate or slightly to the arm-side just like it has all season. There was some hope when he rejoined the Cubs that he might follow their trend of elevating the sinker, but that does not appear to be the case.
Again, you’ll gladly take the outcome because the destination is more important than the journey when you’re looking at individual games. The problem is that following a janky and unproven route time after time is eventually going to leave you marooned or facing a road closure. Which is to say the box score isn’t the best way to judge a start that was perpetually in danger of going sideways.
“I could have thrown the ball better, though,” Arrieta admitted after the game. “At the end of the day, I would have liked it to have been better for us.”
David Ross has remained pretty coy about the status of his former teammate, dancing around the notion that Arrieta is walking a very fine line when it comes to his spot in the rotation, and you know he was hoping for something more to talk about in the wake of the effort.
“I think all the starts are big, I don’t put more importance on one than the other,” Ross said. “I think he threw the ball pretty well. The breaking stuff looked really good. He got beat on a couple of changeups, and just some misfires.”
Depending on how you view it, Arrieta’s start could be a clear sign that he’s still got it or yet another strong indication that he’s completely washed up. Even if it’s the latter, the ability to grind out five innings every fifth day is really all a team needs from its fifth starter. But if the Cubs truly want to be contenders down the stretch, just being good enough isn’t going to be good enough.
The really difficult part may be finding a starter who is a) good enough to have an impact in the second half, and b) whose price tag fits what the Cubs are willing to give up prospect-wise. Then there’s the matter of telling Arrieta that he no longer has a job, which I wouldn’t want to have. At least you don’t have the threat of losing a finger or the tip of your nose like when breaking similar news to John Lackey.
Here’s the part where I turn it over to you, Dear Reader. What do you think the Cubs should do with Arrieta moving forward? Can he regain his form or do they need to replace him quickly with an upgrade to the rotation?