WASHINGTON – At this time last year, Jake Arrieta was at Triple-A Iowa, trying to regroup after getting dumped by the Baltimore Orioles organization that drafted him and made him an Opening Day starter.
Now the Cubs are pinning their hopes on Arrieta, taking a next-man-up attitude after trading away 40 percent of their rotation for the third straight summer.
This looked like a Jeff Samardzija tribute on Sunday afternoon, the Cubs losing 2-1 to the Washington Nationals. Arrieta got the tough-luck no-decision, trailing 1-0 after six strong innings that ended with Bryce Harper striking out swinging and slamming his helmet to the ground in frustration in front of 32,941 at Nationals Park.
The Cubs need Arrieta – who’s 5-1 with a 1.78 ERA in 12 starts – now more than ever after shipping Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s.
“Personally, I was a little upset,” Arrieta said, “just because of the relationship I have with those two guys.
“It’s tough to see two quality arms, but what they’ve done in their career warranted a trade to a team who’s trying to win a World Series this year. Oakland’s very luck to have those guys. They bring so much to that ballclub. You’re going to get innings. You’re going to get a competitive from start to finish. And that’s what you need.”
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President of baseball operations Theo Epstein mentioned Arrieta after the big trade, saying Dan Straily would join Iowa and get the same chance to reset. Straily, 25, could be the next change-of-scenery guy, someone who got American League Rookie of the Year votes last season, but couldn’t stick in the Oakland rotation.
Arrieta is now part of the blueprint, but he didn’t flirt with a perfect game or a no-hitter. Denard Span’s leadoff double in the first inning ended the suspense.
“Yeah, get it out of the way early,” Arrieta said.
Arrieta was four outs away from a no-hitter in his last start against the Boston Red Sox, a performance that earned him a standing ovation at sold-out Fenway Park. Arrieta put together six perfect innings against the Cincinnati Reds on June 24 at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs don’t need Arrieta to make history every time out, but they do need guys to step up and lead this rotation.
“Jake just has to be Jake,” manager Rick Renteria said. “As a consequence of guys leaving, a lot of focus will probably be placed on him. But hopefully that doesn’t effect him. As long as he continues to do what he’s been doing, his performances obviously speak for themselves.
“I don’t want him to change anything he’s been doing or his approach or how he views himself. He’s just got to go out there and pitch and be himself. All the other stuff, how people view him, or how they see it – it takes care of itself.”