MILWAUKEE -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon admitted he did not know what to expect from Jacob Arrieta, who was back on the mound Thursday night at Miller Park for the first time since Sept. 4, when he exited his start against the Pirates due to a right hamstring strain. Turns out the Cubs' right-hander is just fine.
Arrieta did not get a decision in the Cubs' come-from-behind 5-3 victory over the Brewers, but his outing was encouraging as Chicago closes in on a third straight postseason berth and second straight division title. With the win, the Cubs have a 4 1/2-game lead over the Brewers in the National League Central with 10 games to play.
The plan was to have Arrieta throw 75 to 80 pitches, and he was pulled after 71 pitches over five innings. The former NL Cy Young Award winner allowed one run on five hits and a walk while striking out two. After hustling over to cover first base on a double play to end the fifth inning, Maddon decided that was enough for the returning right-hander.
"After covering on the double play awkwardly, I thought, 'Let's get him out of there,'" Maddon said.
How important is Arrieta to the Cubs? In his 11 starts prior to that Pittsburgh game, he was 7-2 with a 1.69 ERA.
"That was really encouraging to all of us," Maddon said of Arrieta's start Thursday. "I did not know what to expect. An injury like that, taking some time off and then coming right back into the swing of things, I thought he was really sharp. I thought his command was really good.
"The delivery looked good, the finish looked good. I was really surprised -- and I don't mean that as a negative [toward Arrieta] -- at how good he looked."
Arrieta said he didn't feel any discomfort in his right leg after the outing.
"I can tell that something happened," Arrieta said. "I think it's the residual feeling of something like that, a hamstring strain. ... [Friday] is the biggest indicator moving forward of how we'll be able to approach this."
As far as Arrieta was concerned, the only unknown was how his leg would feel coming out of the batter's box and covering first base, which he had to do on the final play of his start.
"I had an idea where the bag was, and I just wanted to receive the throw and give myself a chance to be in line with the bag," Arrieta said.
If all goes well, Arrieta will likely get two more regular-season starts, including the finale on Oct. 1 against the Reds at Wrigley Field. That would put him in line to start Game 1 of the NL Division Series. Thursday's win had a postseason vibe, with 35,114 fans at Miller Park, including many boisterous Cubs fans who made the trek north.
"It's just good to be back out there," Arrieta said. "These are big games. I want to be a part of as many as I can, especially to try to clinch the division as quick as possible and then line things up for October.
"We have to get there first."