CHICAGO -- It's been a roller coaster season for the reigning National League Cy Young award winner, and Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta's latest effort -- a loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday -- did nothing to change that.
Once again, Arrieta limited the number of hits he gave up to just four over six innings, the same amount he's given up in each of his three September starts, but he walked four and gave up a home run to Ryan Braun. Arrieta is one of the hardest pitchers to hit in the National League, but he's given up some inopportune home runs, including seven in his last seven starts. His 7.6 percent home run percentage on fly balls is his highest since becoming a Cub as is his 9.8 percent walk percentage. A free pass followed by a big fly is the type of thing that can change a playoff game in a heartbeat.
"I'm not concerned with it," Arrieta said after the game Saturday. "Just need to find that comfort with the sinker in the strike zone, first pitch. After that, it opens up a lot of doors. We're working on it."
Arrieta has often referenced needing to command his off-speed stuff better, but manager Joe Maddon always comes back to his fastball, which is down in velocity.
"There were a lot of 93s (mph)," Maddon said. "I think he hit 95 once or twice. But he's not complaining of being tired or anything bothering him physically."
That's good news, but it doesn't account for the dip in his overall velocity, especially with the Cubs have taking it easy on their starters. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Arrieta is averaging nearly 2 mph less in August and September this year as opposed to last season. In fact, everything is a little down this year. Maddon inquired about it after Saturday.
"He wanted to throttle back a little bit," Maddon said. "He was more concerned with placement as opposed to overpowering hitters."
If a 17-7, 2.96 ERA pitcher can cause some head scratching, it's Arrieta this year.
"Even when he's not on, its going to be less hits given up, purely based on movement," Maddon said.
Fewer hits but more walks, with a greater possibility of a home run. It's not the best formula, but then again, the opposition is hitting just .185 off him, so if it's not going out of the park, Arrieta has a good chance of limiting damage.
"His ball moves unlike anyone else," Maddon said. "His weaponry is unbelievably good. His fastball command has been off from my perspective."
Will he turn it back up a notch for the postseason?
"It's in there," Maddon said. "I really believe it's in there."