The Cubs began auditioning Jake Arrieta on Friday for a potential role in their 2014 starting rotation. Judging by his performance, Arrieta is ready for the part.
Arrieta threw seven shutout innings, allowing only two hits, with seven strikeouts in the Cubs’ 7-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday at Wrigley Field. He walked two and hit one batter in his 94-pitch effort.
Just for good measure, he added an RBI on a squeeze bunt in the sixth as the Cubs nearly matched their run total for the previous four games combined.
In two starts since joining the Cubs organization in a trade with Baltimore, Arrieta has given up only four hits and with an opponent batting average of .095.
But this start was different from the first one he made with the Cubs on July 30. That time he was needed for a spot start in the second game of a doubleheader against Milwaukee, and returned to Triple-A Iowa right after.
This time Arrieta knows he’s getting an extended look from the Cubs in the rotation.
“The biggest thing is just being able to get into a routine again, and knowing that I’m going to be taking the ball every fifth day for this team,” said Arrieta, who is 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings with the Cubs. “That’s a good feeling. It’s something I’ve envisioned myself doing ever since the trade was made. I knew it was just a matter of time. My mindset was just to go about my business and progress and be consistent.”
Against one of baseball’s best offensive teams, Arrieta looked in command Friday. At one point he retired 13 in a row, and faced only 16 batters -- one over the minimum -- through five innings.
“That’s the kind of stuff the power arms can do when they’re throwing strikes and making pitches,” manager Dale Sveum said. “He made some really good pitches in key situations and counts. When you thought you might be losing good hitters, he made good pitches down and away on the black at 95, 96 mph.”
Mixing the fastball with a cutter that topped 90 mph, Arrieta kept the Cardinals off balance. He knows his future success rests with how often he can repeat Friday’s performance.
“That’s what I’m capable of,” he said. “It’s just a matter of commanding the ball and limiting my walks. That’s really what’s gotten me in the past is, you know, too many free passes, letting guys get away when I’m in favorable counts.”
Meanwhile, the Cubs broke out of their offensive slump, jumping on Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook for three runs in the first inning.
Nate Schierholtz drove in three runs, including two in the first, as the Cubs posted seven runs (six earned) and eight hits against Westbrook over 6⅔ innings.
Westbrook needed 30 pitches to escape the first inning after walking the first three batters. Then Schierholtz lined a single up the middle to score David DeJesus and Junior Lake.
It was the first time Cubs put the first four batters on base since Sept. 12, 2011 at Cincinnati. Having the first three batters walked to start a game hadn’t happened since Aug. 20, 1996.
Donnie Murphy completed the outburst with a two-out single to score Anthony Rizzo. Murphy finished with two hits, his second multiple-hit game in the past four. Murphy is hitting .333 with four home runs and nine RBI since joining the Cubs on Aug. 4.
“It’s just going out there with confidence,” Murphy said of his success. “I’ve gotten a lot of good pitches to handle and I haven’t really missed any of them. I’m just taking each day and not trying to get too far ahead of myself.”
Arrieta stumbled some in the second inning when he hit Allen Craig with a pitch and then gave up a single to Carlos Beltran to start it. But he quickly escaped by getting Kolten Wong to ground into a double play ahead of a Rob Johnson groundout.
That started Arrieta’s stretch of 13 consecutive outs. His first five strikeouts came in the third through fifth innings, catching three batters looking.
Arrieta appeared to be losing steam in the sixth as he reached the 75-pitch mark. He fell behind 3-1 to Daniel Descalso before getting him out on a fly ball to center. Then he walked Westbrook and Matt Carpenter to get himself into his second jam.
But he didn’t take long to get out of it.
John Jay grounded into a fielder’s choice for the second out. Westbrook advanced to third base on the play, becoming the first Cardinals runner to get past second. Arrieta then closed the door with his sixth strikeout, catching Matt Holliday looking.
“His stuff is so good that he can fall behind and get back in the count,” Cubs catcher Welington Castillo said. “When he fell behind we just called (for) his breaking ball, and that (let him) get back to the fastball.”