Will Jake Arrieta become part of the Cubs core?
It's the question that has surrounded the 28-year-old right-hander over the last year, ever since he came to Chicago with Pedro Strop in the deal that sent Scott Feldman to the Baltimore Orioles.
The former top prospect needed a change of scenery after never quite figuring it out with the Orioles (5.46 ERA in 63 starts).
After a quick stint in Triple-A, Arrieta got his chance with the Cubs last season, posing a 4-2 record, 3.66 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in nine starts down the stretch.
With six shutout innings Sunday, Arrieta has lowered his ERA to 2.50 in seven starts this year after rebounding from a shoulder injury that set him back in spring training.
Cubs manager Rick Renteria said he doesn't think about the future with Arrieta and doesn't want the righty to concern himself with whether he will wind up as part of The Core or not.
"I think it's important for Jake to solidify who he is as a pitcher, regardless of any of the other circumstances that may or may not develop," Renteria said. "All in all, I think he just has to be the guy that continues to be a presence when he's on the hill."
Arrieta's stuff has never been the issue with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and some nasty breaking pitches. But he's been plagued by control problems throughout his career and he's been trying to be more efficient each time out.
The Cubs have been cautious with him since the shoulder problem in the spring, but he has also racked up high pitch counts early in games. Three times this year, he has failed to go even five innings and threw 105 pitches in just 4.2 innings against the Mets earlier in the home stand.
It's something Arrieta has been working on with pitching coach Chris Bosio and said Sunday was a sign of things moving in the right direction.
"The command has tightened up considerably over the past year or so," he said. "I still would like to become even better in certain areas, continue to improve the command of my off-speed pitches and obviously the fastball. It's getting better."
Arrieta has also been working off the field to mature as a pitcher. He's drawing on past experiences against teams and he's learning even when he's not pitching as he watches teammates like Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija.
"We [pick each other's brains] a lot," Arrieta said of the Cubs starting staff. "I get to see Hammel and Samardzija both throw against this lineup and talk to them about where they approach hitters, where their go-to spots are for outs or ground balls.
"That's a big help for all of us to be able to kind of brainstorm together about a certain lineup because we all have similar repertoires that we can attack hitters with. That definitely helps."
Soon enough, Arrieta may have to be the example for young pitchers in the Cubs clubhouse when guys like Hammel and Samardzija are traded.
Would he be up to the task?