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Arrieta's focus on helping Cubs, not contract

Free agent after season, righty makes spring debut on 31st birthday
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Jake Arrieta admitted he had a few butterflies before his first spring outing Monday, and they had nothing to do with the fact this might be his last season with the Cubs.

Arrieta will be a free agent after this season, and he's trying to keep the focus on baseball, not his contract status.

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Jake Arrieta admitted he had a few butterflies before his first spring outing Monday, and they had nothing to do with the fact this might be his last season with the Cubs.

Arrieta will be a free agent after this season, and he's trying to keep the focus on baseball, not his contract status.

View Full Game Coverage

"The 25, 24, 30 other guys in the clubhouse don't need to hear about my contract," Arrieta said after pitching two innings against the Angels in a 13-10 Cubs victory. "It's just a distraction. If we have a conversation about it, then great. If not, that's fine, too. I try to keep the focus on the team and go from there."

He didn't take the mound at Tempe Diablo Stadium feeling sentimental about this possibly being his last spring with the Cubs.

Video: CHC@LAA: Arrieta gets K, Corporan nabs Escobar for DP

"It's not something I sit down and think about at length," Arrieta said. "It's a situation many players have been in in the past. They've dealt with it. It might not be something fun to talk about. I understand it's a circumstance of where I'm at in my career. The time is coming to a point where either a deal gets done or I go to free agency. The focus needs to be for the next eight months being a Chicago Cub and trying to do the best job I can individually and help my guys be the best they can be."

"It's going to work out well for him," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "The biggest thing is that he has a free and clear mind when he goes out to the mound. I think he will. He knows he has our support. ... Let's hope it works out well for him and the Cubs."

Arrieta, who turned 31 on Monday, gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits, including a solo home run by the Angels' Jefry Marte in the second, in his two innings.

"I feel great," Arrieta said. "I still feel the same way I felt when I was in my early 20s. You hear age is just a number. I believe it is. Thirty-one doesn't sound great, but I still feel great. That's all I'm worried about."

Video: Cubs, Arrieta ready to repeat in 2017 season

It must be all that kale he eats and pilates he does between starts. In 2015, Arrieta won the National League Cy Young Award, winning 22 games and posting a 1.77 ERA in 33 starts. Last year, he went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA.

"The biggest difference for me last year was command of his fastball," Maddon said. "If he had had the command of his fastball last year that he had the year before, then [2016] would've been pretty significant."

An increase in walks in 2016 from the previous year bothered Arrieta, who did lead the NL in batting average on balls in play (.242). He's got a few more starts in Arizona to work on his mechanics.

"For the first one, the result wasn't exactly what I would've liked, but getting the work in is the only thing that matters at this point," Arrieta said.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

Chicago Cubs, Jake Arrieta