Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to have the best rotation in baseball

Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to have the best rotation in baseball

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Jake Arrieta is a Cy Young Award winner who won't get the Opening Night assignment. John Lackey is a No. 3 starter already fitted for his third World Series ring. Kyle Hendricks led the majors with a 2.13 ERA last year and won't start until the fifth game of this season.  

Do you feel like this is the best rotation in baseball?

"We're up there, yeah," Arrieta said after homering off Zack Greinke during Thursday afternoon's 5-5 tie with the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. "I think on paper – and with what we've actually done on the field – it's tough to not say that.

"We like the guys we have. People can rank them, but time will tell. Once we get out there the first four or five times through the rotation, I think you can probably put a stamp on it then, more so than now. 

"But, yeah, we stack up just as well as anybody out there, for sure."  

Arrieta made it through five innings against the Diamondbacks, giving up three runs and eight hits in what figures to be his second-to-last Cactus League tune-up before facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 4. 

The New York Mets blew away Cubs hitters with their power pitching and game-planning during that 2015 National League Championship Series sweep. The Washington Nationals are trying to keep Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg healthy and already watched Tanner Roark deliver for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. 

The Cubs dreaded the idea of facing Johnny Cueto in a possible elimination game at Wrigley Field last October. The Los Angeles Dodgers almost became a matchup nightmare for the Cubs with lefties Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill during the 2016 NLCS.

But slotting Hendricks at No. 5 – five months after he started a World Series Game 7 – is a luxury few contenders can afford. 

"That just speaks to our length in the rotation," Arrieta said, "and being able to keep relievers out of the game, longer than most teams. That's a big deal, especially when you get into July and August. 

"Obviously, Kyle could be a 1 or 2 just about anywhere. Not that he's not here. We've got several of those, which is a good problem to have. It's going to be favorable for us when there's a No. 4 or No. 5 guy in our rotation going up against somebody else's. Our chances are really good, especially with our lineup." 

Arrieta talked up No. 4 starter Brett Anderson as "a little bit like Hendricks from the left side" in terms of his preparation, cerebral nature and spin rate, a combination that makes him an X-factor for this rotation and an organization starved for pitching beyond 2017. 

The if-healthy disclaimer always comes with Anderson, who played with Arrieta on the 2008 Olympic team and has been on the disabled list nine times since then. Coming out of high school, Arrieta initially signed to play for Anderson's father, Frank, the Oklahoma State University coach at the time, before going in a different direction in a career that wouldn't truly take off until he got to Chicago. 

"We're all looking forward to seeing how we pick up where we left off," Arrieta said. "Judging by what we've done this spring and the shape guys are in and the health – I don't see any reason we can't jump out to an early lead like we did last year and sustain it throughout the entire season."

David Ross shines in 'Dancing With The Stars' debut, gets unexpected Skype call from Jake Arrieta and Anthony Rizzo

David Ross shines in 'Dancing With The Stars' debut, gets unexpected Skype call from Jake Arrieta and Anthony Rizzo

David Ross made his "Dancing With The Stars" debut Monday, and he didn't disappoint.

Grandpa Rossy, who capped off his MLB career by hitting a home run in Game 7 and helping the Cubs win their first World Series title in 108 years, dressed up in full uniform and danced to Steve Goodman's "Go Cubs Go" with professional dancer Lindsay Arnold.

He and Arnold drew 7s across the board, good for a score of 28 out of a possible 40. The 40-year-old retired catcher then received an unexpected Skype message from former teammates Jake Arrieta and Anthony Rizzo, prompting Ross to get teary-eyed.

You can vote online at ABC.com. There are no eliminations in the first week.

Here are a few photos from Ross, with words of encouragement to vote:

Almost time! #cubs #mlb #DWTS #LadyandtheGramp

A post shared by David Ross (@grandparossy_3) on

Why Jake Arrieta thinks he can pitch until he’s 40 (with or without the Cubs)

Why Jake Arrieta thinks he can pitch until he’s 40 (with or without the Cubs)

MESA, Ariz. – Scott Boras compared Jake Arrieta to Max Scherzer before his other client had captured a Cy Young Award, made an All-Star team, won two World Series games…or even finished a full season in the big leagues.

This was August 2015 in the Boras Corp. suite at Dodger Stadium, roughly 48 hours before the onesie no-hitter on ESPN. So, yeah, Scherzer's seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals will become part of the backdrop when/if the Cubs engage in full-scale negotiations with Arrieta's camp.

Arrieta will be 32 by Opening Day 2018, though Boras will point to the pitching odometer (roughly 1,000 innings so far). Subtle isn't the default setting for a super-agent, but another pitch can be made around the idea of Arrieta's know-how, intellectual curiosity, nutrition program and Pilates regimen.

All those attributes make Arrieta think he could pitch until he's 40.

"Look at (John) Lackey," Arrieta said, amplifying his comments made to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports and MLB Network. "He says he's going to retire after this year, but watch him throw. He's healthy. He’s got velocity. He knows how to pitch. He's got great command.

"If he wanted to, he could probably pitch another three years. Rich Hill signed a three-year deal. He's going to pitch until he's 40. If I want to, I think I'll still be able to. Why not? I might not want to, though.

"At that point, I'm going to have kids that are in need of coaches. It would be nice maybe to spend a little bit more time with them and be a part of their sports and taking them to practice in an Aerovan or Astro Van or whatever it is."

When a reporter said that a juice bar can't run itself, Arrieta joked about his many off-the-field interests: "Yeah, I'm looking for good people. If you need a job…let me know."

Arrieta will still be his own best advocate – more persuasive than any glossy Boras Corp. binder – with another Bob Gibson-esque performance in his walk year. Arrieta cruised through five innings against a Triple-A squad from the Los Angeles Angels on Friday afternoon at the Sloan Park complex and understands that he will have to make concessions and keep adjusting.

"You evolve," Arrieta said. "I've heard since my rookie year that all you got to do is put it in the zone and you're going to get guys out. So as I've gotten a little older, I've really started to embrace that and pitch accordingly.

"I was close to 100 (mph) in college, but you don't need that. Low-to-mid 90s, four pitches, some maturity, a good scouting report, a good catcher, that's all you need."

This might be the biggest takeaway from an All-Star season where Arrieta went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA and still went through stretches where the Cubs didn't really know what they were going to get from start to start.

[MORE CUBS: Eloy Jimenez made a huge impression on Joe Maddon in Cubs camp]

"I didn't have my A-stuff half the year last year," Arrieta said. "It doesn't matter, though. There are still plenty of ways to get guys out, changing speeds, changing eye level, relying on movement versus high-end velocity. I didn't have my cutter for a good part of the year. That's a pretty good sign.

"It's not a guarantee that you're going to have certain things, even for a season. It might sound crazy. But I guarantee if you talk to (Jon) Lester or Lackey, they can probably name you two or three seasons where they missed a pitch or maybe even two.

"Pitching is a crazy job. You can completely lose it for no rhyme or reason. It just kind of happens. And then out of the blue, there it is again. Regardless of the work you put in, sometimes it just kind of eludes you. You just keep working."

Too soon to start the "Grandpa Jake" Instagram account?

"I'm hoping I don't have a salt-and-pepper beard," Arrieta said. "I don't have the best hair anymore, but I'm hoping this stays dark. But, yeah, I'll be a grandfather to these kids in five or six years. Why not?" 

Because Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer haven't shown that type of appetite for a long-term deal yet, and Boras can't go over their heads to chairman Tom Ricketts, who leaves those decisions to baseball operations.

"It would be cool, for sure, but the business is the business," Arrieta said. "They're not dummies. They do what they do. There's a rhyme and reason for why they make the moves they do. They have to put what they feel is the team's best interest and the organization's best interest first.

"I would do the same thing. That's just something that they will decide one way or another, which way they want to go. And then we'll handle it.

"Something could come up. Something might not come up. Both are OK."