Arrieta warms up Wrigley on frigid night

April 21st, 2021

CHICAGO -- With the temperature hovering just above freezing in Wrigleyville on Tuesday night, the players, coaches and umpires took the field with extra layers to battle the frigid breeze off Lake Michigan.

And then there was .

"I doubt we'll see sleeves on him," Cubs manager David Ross quipped before Arrieta faced the Mets.

As predicted, Arrieta bared his arms, braved the elements and then breezed through the Mets in a 3-1 victory at Wrigley Field. The veteran right-hander logged five effective innings with only a few blemishes, continuing on as Chicago's most effective starter out of the gates this season.

While the Cubs' collective offensive issues have garnered most of the attention three weeks into this campaign, the rotation has not been immune from ups and downs. In fact, Arrieta is the lone starting pitcher with an ERA below 5.00 through the first 16 games.

“I'm throwing the ball the way I expect to throw it,” Arrieta said. “There's things I could do better, for sure. You take what you have at your disposal, and you use it to the best of your ability and try to help the team win.”

Arrieta held New York's lineup without a hit until the fourth inning, when Dominic Smith broke through with a single. The righty held the Mets off the board until the fifth, when J.D. Davis sent an errant 1-1 sinker deep into the bleachers in left-center for a solo homer.

By that time, the Cubs had spotted Arrieta a few runs to use to his advantage on the cold night. And the pitcher was a part of both Chicago rallies. He used a sacrifice bunt in the third to move to second, and the infielder was later able to score on a Mets error. Arrieta also drew a key walk as part of a two-run fourth.

“If we can handle the bat well,” Arrieta said, “get a bunt down or draw a timely walk, good things can happen, as we saw tonight. Yes, we all take our hitting very seriously as starters. That's the way it should be.”

The Chicago bullpen took it from there, but not without a bit of late drama. In the ninth, the Mets loaded the bases with one out against closer , who struck out Brandon Nimmo and induced a game-ending groundout from Francisco Lindor to seal the win.

Davis' blast was the lone setback for Arrieta, who dodged any potential harm from three walks issued. The veteran struck out four and bowed out of the ballgame with his ERA resting at 2.86 through four starts on this young campaign.

“I gave up one solo homer and it was a long one,” said Arrieta, shrugging off Davis’ 432-foot shot. “Congratulations to him. He hit it well. But, that's just that -- it was a solo homer. We had a three-run lead at the time.”

Heading into Tuesday's game, the Cubs' rotation had a 5.91 ERA overall, ranking 28th in the Majors. The group -- defined more by pitching to contact and relying on defense than overpowering batters -- had an 18.2% strikeout rate (29th among MLB rotations).

The Cubs understood the risks of constructing a starting staff that was so reliant on creating outs via balls in play, but the early results have been troubling. For example, the 9.9% walk rate entering Tuesday was uncharacteristically high for arms in place. The starters have also generated just a 27.8% rate of swings outside the zone (29th in MLB).

“With where things have been in the starting rotation,” Ross said, “to have a guy [in Arrieta] that you can lean on a little bit and that actually welcomes that kind of feeling or those expectations, is nice. … He carries himself around the clubhouse, when he's on the mound, around this group, with a lot of confidence. And it stands out.”

There is hope in the fact that veterans like Kyle Hendricks (6.92 ERA through three outings) and Zach Davies (10.32 ERA through three starts) can right their personal ships soon. Hendricks has a long record of effectiveness, and Davies boasts one of the game's elite changeups.

In the meantime, Arrieta's strong start to the season -- in this second chapter with the Cubs -- has been promising. The 35-year-old righty came back to Chicago as a project, looking to rebuild his delivery following injury setbacks in recent years.

So far, so good.

“I'm happy to be on the same side as him,” Sogard said. “Just the way he's able to move the ball and command the ball, he doesn't always need that power like he had in the past.”

And on a cold night, Arrieta didn’t need any extra layers.

“I don’t think you’ll ever see me in sleeves,” said the pitcher.