Arrieta Mailbag: Rizzo is fun to watch

Before his scheduled start against the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night, Chicago Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta answered your questions for this week’s edition of Player Mailbag:

What is the main difference in approaches your pitching coaches in Baltimore and Chicago have taken with you? -- David, Tinley Park, Illinois

Jake Arrieta: A lot of it has to do with the development as a person and a player. On and off the field. Really understanding that you have to pick and choose bits of information that you get from all these sources that are bombarding you with it. For a young player, it’s quite overwhelming to process it all at the big league level while you’re trying to establish yourself and have success. Keeping things much more simple is important. Knowing what needs correcting and what you can disregard is where I’m at now. I know that doesn’t answer your question completely.

Does being on the trade block change how you think or play?
-- C. Williamson, Robinson, Illinois

JA: I knew a trade was a good possibility. Sometimes, things work in ways that a change of scenery is best for the player. I’m grateful the Orioles traded me, and I’m even more grateful the Cubs wanted me. I think I fit in very well here, so it didn’t affect me too much.

What's it like to watch Anthony Rizzo every day right now?
-- Brandon, Villa Park, Illinois

JA: When a guy like Rizzo gets hot, you want to be on the top step watching because he can do some special things. He crowds the plate, challenges guys to throw him in[side] and hits mistakes. His power potential is pretty special.

Seeing the evolution of Jeff Samardzija throughout his major league career, it seems that the biggest step for him was beginning to pitch more to contact. Is that something you try to do at all? Or is it something you are still working on? -- Jason, Chicago

JA: Pitching to contact might not seem like that’s the goal, but more times than not, it is. Both of us being power pitchers we don’t need to beat around the bush. The strikeouts will come. He’s taken that next step, and I think he has even more room for growth. I see myself in the same light. It’s great to see the progress he’s made just in the short time I’ve been here since last season. It’s night and day. It’s fun to watch.

Who was your favorite player growing up?
-- Mike, Marion, Illinois

JA: No. 1 is Nolan Ryan. I grew up in Texas. My dad loved Nolan, my grandfather loved Nolan, so it was kind of passed down to me. He was an intimidating factor on the mound, and I think that’s what made his performances so fun to watch.

Are the Wrigley Field renovation talks a hot topic among the pitching group? And is it frustrating returning to Wrigley after experiencing some great bullpen facilities at other major league parks? -- Ryan, Australia

JA: It’s not frustrating going back to Wrigley. We know the renovations are in the works, and we’re excited about it. The Ricketts family has continued to preach that it’s time to upgrade it. We look forward to being the first to use those elite-type facilities. It’s one of those things with the history -- you don’t want to mess with it. We’re kind of walking on eggshells there. Fenway did it. They made some upgrades and Fenway looks great. Wrigley will, too.

This year, you've almost completely abandoned your slider and started throwing more curveballs and cutters, and it's led to a ton more ground balls. Going into the year, was it an active goal of yours to induce more ground balls, or are they just a byproduct of throwing pitches you feel more comfortable commanding? -- Jason, Homer Glen, Illinois

JA: More ground balls is a byproduct of executing more quality pitches down in the strike zone. That’s all that is. As far as my slider and cutter, my slider is anywhere from 88 to 92 mph. I think people call it a cutter because it’s so hard. [Cubs catcher] John Baker says, 'That’s not a cutter. That’s a slider at 90 mph.' It’s something I’ve toyed around with. I’ve been able to create that depth while keeping that velocity.

I would like to know, being a right-handed pitcher, if you throw any pitch with left-to-right movement against righties, what I would call a screwball? I would swear I have seen this movement more than ever before (this year) in both leagues. I think I saw Samardzija throw it. Is this an MLB trend? -- Brian, Las Vegas

JA: For me, a ball moving in is going to be a sinker or a changeup. I throw sinkers a high percentage of the time. That’s a pitch that can be tough to command. Both Jeff and I are working on it now -- being more precise with it. That’s something the elite-type pitchers can do. That’s where we’re going toward, I hope. Samardzija has done a great job with it; I’m trying to do the same thing.

When you’re stuck in a difficult position while on the mound, how do you regain focus and get out of jams? -- Kish, Bensenville, Illinois

JA: A couple of deep breaths take care of that. Early in my career and in the minor leagues, I would make the adrenaline increase without needing it. I would get my heart rate up. What I need to do is take a couple deep breaths and maybe use a three-word phrase and get my[self] back in focus. Try to slow it down instead of speed it up.

Coming off the draft, what advice, if any, would you give a player who may have a decision between school and making the jump to the pros? -- Steve, Batavia, Illinois

JA: If it's life-changing money and you’re drafted high in the first round, that’s a difficult decision, but I would highly encourage a kid to go to school. Those are three of my best years of my life. Most of my core group of my friends I met in college. It also prepared me mentally for the pros and handling everything with that.

Saw you pitch in high school. Great stuff! Thought you'd be the best of the best by now. What's holding you back? Must be mental because you have all the physical stuff.
-- Carlos, Texas

JA: I wish pitching was easy, but if it was, everyone would be doing it. I like where I’m at and the process of getting to that point. Guys like [Clayton] Kershaw and [Tim] Lincecum that get to the big leagues and do it immediately is like .0001 percent. I’m trying to put in the time to reach that point in my career.

If the Cubs do trade Jason Hammel and Samardzija, what will that do to the clubhouse? Do you feel it's like the front office is just giving up? -- Randy, Manteno, Illinois

JA: The front office isn’t going to make any decisions just to give up. Everybody here wants to win. That’s never been a question for me. It depends how they view the future -- with Samardzija as a part of it or a handful of prospects that can be part of the future together. I don’t have the answer, but in a perfect world, he stays here and is the No. 1 guy for the next six or seven years.