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What's going on with Jake Arrieta?

DENVER -- He has pitched in less than a quarter of his starts for the season, but Chicago Cubs free-agent-to-be Jake Arrieta isn't exactly creating a big payday for himself -- nor is he helping his team in the standings.

A 10-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in Game 1 of a doubleheader Tuesday afternoon dropped the Cubs to .500 (16-16) and left Arrieta wondering what is going on. He isn't the only one.

"There is something different regarding something at the plate," Joe Maddon said postgame. "They're not missing it as often. That's what I'm seeing. Velocity, obviously, is not the same."

There's a lot to unpack with Arrieta, so let's start with velocity. It could be the root of all his problems. From Day 1 this season, his numbers have been down, but he was getting batters out. After two starts, he was 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA, but that ERA has risen since.

Perhaps it took a while, but teams are figuring out how to attack Arrieta, considering his average fastball velocity is only 92 mph. On Tuesday, it was a little under 92, and the Rockies took advantage. Arrieta gave up nine hits in 3 2/3 innings.

"His stuff wasn't as crisp as it normally is, and location wasn't there," catcher Miguel Montero stated. "He didn't get many swings-and-misses."

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Arrieta produced just two swing-and-misses with his fastball Tuesday, though he used the pitch much less than usual. In fact, Arrieta threw his fastball fewer times than he had in any start dating to May 2016. Considering that breaking pitches don't get the movement at Coors Field that they do at other stadiums, Arrieta was vulnerable for a bad day.

"I didn't think it was good -- at all," Arrieta said. "Just too many hittable pitches in the middle of the plate ... I wanted to establish strikes with all my pitches. I did it almost too well."

The Rockies jumped on Arrieta the second time through the order, as he reverted to his slider, which he threw more Tuesday than he had in any start since before the 2015 All-Star break. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Arrieta went to his bread-and-butter pitch, but nothing seemed to work.

"There was not a lot of swing-and-miss," Maddon reiterated. "The ball was in play a lot. Jake usually gets more swing-and-miss."

Maddon said he is concerned only if Arrieta is hurting, but then the converse question applies: If Arrieta isn't hurting, why the continued dip in velocity? Why the extreme measures taken with the game plan? This is not the Arrieta of 2015, and lately he is trending worse than 2016 Arrieta, even if results at Coors Field have to be taken with a grain of salt.

"When he threw a strike, he paid for it," Montero said.

Watch Jake Arrieta discuss his poor performance in the Cubs 10-4 loss to the Rockies Tuesday afternoon.

Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer ago

That partly has to do with the ballpark, but no unbiased observer would say Arrieta has been sharp since those first few starts. His velocity did tick back up a couple of outings ago, and the results were better, but with so much at stake for him, it has been a more-than-curious beginning to his season.

If any statistic sums up his first seven appearances of 2017, it's what opponents are hitting off him. Last season, he led qualified starters with a .194 average against. That stat was even better in 2015, when batters hit only .185 off Arrieta. Getting a base knock off Arrieta was as hard as anything in baseball back then. This season, opponents are hitting .290 off the righty, which ranks 76th in the NL among anyone who has started at least one game. This isn't the Arrieta anyone is used to, no matter where he's pitching.

The former Cy Young winner certainly wasn't making any excuses after his worst start of the season. He wore it. But can he find it again? That's all anyone wants to know.

"Just a tough one today," he said. "I wasn't very good. I just threw one too many with too much plate ... A couple of innings this season have been extended, so that's why everything is inflated more than it should be. [I'll] just continue to prepare and refine my pitches."