CHICAGO (AP) — Each start was remarkably similar. That smooth, efficient motion. The devastating array of pitches. The easy cool that quickly spreads to his teammates, who are so confident when he takes the mound.
A year after a disappointing departure from Baltimore, Jake Arrieta is thriving in Chicago. The 6-foot-4 right-hander is unbeaten in his last eight starts after beginning the season on the disabled list due to shoulder tightness, providing a glimmer of hope as the lowly Cubs stumbled to last place in the NL Central at the All-Star break.
"Jake knows it now, he's our new horse and that's what we want," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "We want him to be that ace and just keep getting all the confidence in the world because he's pitching very confident right now and it's been fun to watch."
Arrieta's undefeated stretch began with one of his shortest outings of the season, when he lasted just 4 2-3 innings on June 3 against the New York Mets. He gave up seven hits and walked three, but he allowed just one first-inning run in Chicago's 2-1 victory.
Then he really put on a show. Arrieta pitched six shutout innings against Miami, and seven more against Philadelphia. He retired his first 18 batters in a victory over Cincinnati. He was so good against the Red Sox that the fans at Fenway Park saluted him with a loud ovation when he departed after Boston's first hit with two out in the eighth.
Heading into Sunday's start at Arizona, Arrieta is 4-0 with a 1.36 ERA and a .160 opponents' batting average during his impressive six-week run. "He's got a good slider and he's got a very deceptive way that he comes at you," Reds All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco said. "It's really cross-bodied and it's almost like he's throwing from behind you, so it's a heck of an angle to try to hit the ball from, especially for a right-hander."
Arrieta's repertoire includes a fastball that sits in the low 90s, a big curveball and a circle changeup that he mixes in to prevent hitters from sitting on his fastball. But it's that slider and his ability to use it as a cut fastball that has been particularly effective.
"It's a cutter and a slider depending on what I want it to be," he said, before running through how he uses it in different situations. "It's one pitch, but I can throw it multiple different ways at different velocities."
Arrieta was selected by the Orioles in the fifth round of the 2007 draft out of TCU. He made his major league debut three years later at age 24, and won 10 games the following season. He drew Baltimore's opening-day start in 2012, and threw seven scoreless innings in a victory over Minnesota on the 20th anniversary of the opening of Camden Yards. It looked as if he could be a key contributor for the Orioles for years to come, but that was really the beginning of the end when it came to his time in Baltimore.
Arrieta shuffled back and forth between Triple-A Norfolk and Baltimore before he was traded to Chicago last July. The contending Orioles also sent reliever Pedro Strop to the Cubs in return for pitcher Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger.
"I was bombarded by information from 50 different sources, which is never beneficial to anybody, I don't care who you are," Arrieta said, reflecting on his departure from the Orioles. "You got four or five different sports psychologists trying to reach out to you, you got seven different coaches trying to implement some input, you know that never works. It just kind of made things go in the opposite direction."
Arrieta credits the change of scenery and his experience in developing a successful routine as two big reasons for his recent success. He also has a solid relationship with pitching coach Chris Bosio, who has become quite the asset for the Cubs when it comes to turning around cheap reclamation projects.
Next up for Arrieta is just building on his solid first part of the season. Chicago traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland on July, making Arrieta's starts even more important for the Cubs for the rest of the year.
They believe he is up to the challenge of anchoring the staff. "I think when he goes out there on the hill, he's got a calmness about him," manager Rick Renteria said. "He's got some poise and hopefully this is now a turning point, it continues to be a turning point for him in his career and he continues to move forward and he's able to take advantage of that great stuff he's got."
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap