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Arrieta motivated to do it again

MESA, Ariz. -- Ask Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta if he saw his breakout season coming in 2014 -- despite starting a month late due to a sore shoulder -- and he has a simple answer for you: "Yep."

Arrieta is pretty confident about his all-world stuff, after things finally came together for him the past season. Seemingly every five days, Cubs fans saw no-hitter material. He didn't get one, but that doesn't mean it's not coming.

"I expect him to be in Cincinnati at the All-Star Game," spring instructor Rick Sutcliffe said Sunday before Arrieta made his spring debut.

His first start in 2015 didn't resemble one of his dominating efforts from 2014 -- it was more like previous seasons -- but Arrieta isn't concerned.

"Too much arm side today," Arrieta said after walking three in two innings against the Texas Rangers. "Didn't make enough of an adjustment to align myself with the plate."

He gave up a home run as well, but after missing all of spring training the past season due to a sore shoulder, Arrieta is just glad to be out there, as he and Jon Lester will team up to form a formidable top two in the rotation.

"Our goals are very similar," Arrieta said of Lester. "We're not very verbal about them. Internally, we know what we both individually want to accomplish. We know what we need to do to put this team in it for the long haul."

He tried to rattle off a few other teams that have the same kind of potential at the top of their rotations, but only the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals come to mind in the NL as being "for certain" equals.

A year ago at this time, there's no way you could include Arrieta in that kind of conversation, but that was then. After he gave up just 114 hits in 156 innings, he has arrived.

Manager Joe Maddon was surprised Arrieta was traded to the Cubs from the Orioles in 2013, as he saw the flashes of greatness while managing in Tampa Bay.

"He'd have those spurts where you couldn't touch him, but then you'd hit that fourth or fifth inning, and it would blow up," Maddon said.

That was a knock on him back then. Arrieta has come a long way from being just a guy with good stuff. Now he embraces a healthy diet as well as a healthy mind. It's put him with the elite in the game.

"There's a lot of ways to be successful, but all those ways incorporate a strong mindset," Arrieta said. "Without that, it becomes more difficult to attain your level of potential."

Maddon believes in that kind of talk, as both embrace the mental side of the game. In fact, compared to in the past, the Cubs have several more players who stress the mental aspects, including new catcher Miguel Montero.

Sutcliffe has seen the progression in Arrieta from the past spring to now, in part because of the work he has done above the shoulders.

"The strides that he has made, the holes that he has filled -- he has stepped up to pitch like a No. 1," Sutcliffe said. "Let's see if he can do it again."

Arrieta thinks he can be even better. That's a scary thought. Combined with Lester's potential, the Cubs might just have the top two arms in the division -- if not the National League.

Who would have thought that at this time a year ago?