And he can look really good doing so.
“When he’s in the zone, you’ve got that 90 mph slider/cutter,” manager Dale Sveum said after the Cubs' 7-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday. “His curveball was pretty good today. When he’s in the zone he’s pretty tough.”
“In the zone” is the key phrase there. Arrieta walked nine combined in his previous two starts, both losses. On Sunday he limited the Phillies to just three free passes, two coming in his final inning and with Chicago in front comfortably.
“If I can establish strike one, the walks will be down,” Arrieta said. “Stay on the aggressive side of the attack. I would like to be better at first-pitch strikes. Be more aggressive, right out of the gate. That wasn’t something I was very happy with today.”
He didn’t always pitch ahead in the count. In fact he went 2-0 on the first two batters of the game, but after walking Jimmy Rollins he got down to business. It was the pitches after the walks that may have been his best. He buckled Chase Utley on a beauty of a curveball in the first inning, then got him swinging in the fourth.
Arrieta seems so close to becoming the pitcher the Baltimore Orioles thought he would be when he was their opening day starter in 2012. Finding that right line to walk is something he’s learning. His stuff is so good, giving teams free passes seems like a waste.
“Walks are part of the game,” he said. “As far as managing the walks, that’s where the aggressiveness comes into play. Sometimes focus wavers from time to time. It’s not intentional. Keeping my foot on the gas, so to speak, is something that helps me continue to fire strikes. My emphasis isn’t in or out, it's quality strikes at the bottom of the zone and allowing the hitters to put the ball in play.”
Letting the opposition hit the ball sounds like a good plan. Arrieta doesn’t get knocked around very often -- unless he’s giving up those free passes. On Sunday, he gave up three hits and only one was a really hard-hit ball.
If Arrieta limits the walks, the Cubs have a good pitcher on their hands for 2014. It’s still a big “if,” but Sunday was another step in the right direction.