LOS ANGELES – It’s harder to find perspective when the lights are flashing all around Dodger Stadium and the techno music is thumping and Adrian Gonzalez just launched a two-run homer 429 feet to straightaway center.
But that’s why Jake Arrieta pays Scott Boras. The super-agent sat in a front-row seat behind home plate on Friday night, watching his client go through another up-and-down start for a Cubs team that needs Arrieta to pitch more like an ace.
It’s easy to lose sight of this during a 4-0 loss where the Dodgers looked more like the team on a mission after getting eliminated from last year’s National League Championship Series.
But Arrieta is someone who has already experienced the low points that made him think about quitting baseball as he shuttled back and forth between the Orioles and Triple-A – and the intoxicating high from ending the 108-year drought and creating so much joy for generations of Cubs fans.
So Boras isn’t buying the idea that Arrieta might be feeling the weight of his upcoming free agency.
“Coming from Baltimore to here and establishing himself in the big leagues was the major arc of his career,” Boras said, “the most difficult moment of illustrating that he is an everyday major-leaguer. The fact that he has the skills, and what he has up here (in his head), the dynamic of winning two World Series games and things like that, I’d say he’s (been) measured. When you win World Series games, that’s the most important thing.
“If you want me to measure pressure, I’d say that’s World Series cojones.”
To get back into October, the Cubs will need more consistency from Arrieta (5-4, 4.92 ERA), who’s still fine-tuning his delivery and not always getting that extra burst of velocity that made him a Cy Young Award winner and unhittable one night at Dodger Stadium.
Two aging Dodgers crushed Arrieta fastballs. Chase Utley – who began the game hitting .204 – drove one over the center-field wall in the third inning. Gonzalez had gone 131 plate appearances this season before notching his first home run with two outs in the sixth inning.
“I understand how difficult this game is,” Arrieta said. “It’s a work in progress. I’m still not exactly where I would like to be. But it’s close. It really is.”
Even as Arrieta worked through command/mechanical issues last season, he still wound up winning 18 games and limiting opponents to a .583 OPS that ranked second in the majors. It took until the middle of last August before he gave up his 10th home run, or where he’s already at through 10 starts this season.
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“The one that Utley hit out was on the corner – that’s a good piece of hitting,” Arrieta said. “The one to Gonzalez was too much plate in a 3-1 count. It was elevated. Willson (Contreras) called a changeup. I shook to the fastball. I expected to locate a little bit better than I did. But I feel like if I continue on this progression, I think I’ll be OK.
“I don’t intend to continue to give up as much hard contact, especially balls over the fence. It’s been a little bit of tough luck, but they just flat out beat us.”
There’s some truth to that – Arrieta continued to pile up the strikeouts (nine) and limit the walks (one) – while Dodger lefty Alex Wood extended his scoreless streak to 25.1 innings before handing the game over to a dominant bullpen. But whether it’s an underperforming offense, a defense not playing at the same historic level or those velocity questions, Arrieta doesn’t appear to have the same margin for error anymore.
All those elements could come roaring back, but the Cubs are now a 25-22 team that could be looking to replace 60 percent of the rotation by Opening Day 2018.
“You don’t really think about (it),” Boras said. “When the Cubs come to town, I look at the standings: OK, where are they at? They’re trying to win again. This club’s a good club and you think about what moves they’re going to make to make it better.
“Jake’s total focus has always been about putting himself in a position that few players get to be in – and that is being on a club where you can win more.”
Whatever happens over the next several months, this will be the reservoir of confidence Arrieta draws from, and ultimately his legacy as a Cub.
“When the postseason hits, it’s Jake’s greatest measurement,” Boras said. “I don’t know, I heard winning a World Series in Chicago was difficult.”