ST. LOUIS – For all the overblown, so-called significance gleaned from the first two games of 162 for the Cubs this season, one potential sign might not actually be overblown.
When Jake Arrieta retired his first nine batters faced of the season – and 13 of the first 14 – in his first start of what might be his final season with the Cubs Tuesday night, it at least suggested the uncertainty of the next six to eight month of his career won’t affect his focus and performance.
“That’s not a distraction at all really,” Arrieta said after allowing only an unearned run in six innings to beat the Cardinals 2-1 in his season debut – drawing comparisons in the clubhouse to his 2015 Cy Young season.
“My contract, that’s an ancillary part of just the game of baseball,” he said. “It’s part of the business side of it. But my focus is just to be here for the guys in the clubhouse and help us win another championship.”
Arrieta, who won two World Series road games on the way to the historic championship last fall, is eligible for free agency at the end of the season.
He agreed to an arbitration-level record $15.638 million deal with the Cubs for this year and is widely projected as the top free agent pitcher on next winter’s market.
He’s 55-21 with a 2.50 ERA in 99 starts since the Cubs acquired him and reliever Pedro Strop in a lopsided trade with the Orioles in July 2013.
“In his particular situation right now, it should help relax him a bit,” manager Joe Maddon said of the strong debut start. “He’s tough. He understands what’s going on. I thought he reacted really well [Tuesday]. He reacted well in spring training. I thought in spring training the strike throwing really kept getting better and better, and I think you saw it again [Tuesday] in the game.”
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