"I saw the clip of essentially an accusation on the ESPN morning show [First Take]," Epstein told the Kap & Co. Show on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. "I found it to be completely reckless. It's someone who has never met Jake, as far as I know, has never been in our clubhouse. I don't know if he's ever watched him pitch. [He] would make that type of accusation without talking to anyone who knows Jake and anyone who understands his work ethic and changes that he's made."
Epstein spoke publicly on the matter for the first time, calling it his "job" to defend his star pitcher. The controversy began after Arrieta mentioned that other "star" players in the league had questioned whether he was cheating. Arrieta said he laughed off those whispers, but a First Take segment Wednesday included commentary indicating that it was no laughing matter.
"This is not someone who used to throw 88 mph and all of sudden is throwing 95 mph," Epstein continued. "Jake's stuff is essentially exactly the same as it was when he was in Baltimore and struggling. He's tweaked his delivery, added a lot of deception, added a lot of life and commands the baseball, which he couldn't do previously. And then this TV personality started to question Jake's endurance, which is directly tied to Jake's workout regime, which is the most aggressive in baseball."
First Take revisited the topic on Thursday's show, before Epstein's comments. During the Thursday segment, co-commentator Stephen A. Smith said: "I was just saying it's not a laughing matter when we're talking about the history of baseball. I wasn't convicting him of anything because I don't know. I barely get to see him all the time." Smith also addressed a statistical discrepancy made during the original segment: "By the way, I made an error yesterday when I was talking about when he got traded. ... I apologize."
Since being traded to the Cubs in 2013, Arrieta has readjusted his delivery. It now resembles how he threw when he first was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles. He also discovered Pilates, which has changed his conditioning program.
"Jake works harder than anyone in baseball," Epstein said. "That's a fact, and anyone who's around Jake understands that, so maybe he should come try to do Jake's workout for a week before he questions his integrity or questions his livelihood, essentially. I just found it to be completely reckless and an unfortunate reflection of certain elements of the media age we live in where it's more important to attract attention and attract ratings than it is be intellectually honest. I thought it was ridiculous."
Arrieta is 20-1 over his past 24 regular-season starts with a 0.86 ERA including two no-hitters.