David Ross wasn’t behind the plate for Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter. But he was there for the encore Saturday, which was almost as good.
Arrieta threw eight scoreless innings, allowing four hits and no walks in the Cubs’ 2-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field. The right-hander added more gloss to his improving Cy Young case by lowering his ERA to 2.03 and improving his won-lost record to a major-league best 18-6. His ERA over his last 14 starts is 0.99. The numbers go on and on.
“He’s right there at the top as far as stuff goes,’’ said Ross, who had watched Miguel Montero catch Arrieta’s no-hit, 12-strikeout gem against the Dodgers from the visitors dugout last Sunday. “And he’s only going to get better.
“He’s a number one, he’s got some of the best stuff in the game. I know that for a fact – I’ve had to hit against him before. It’s not a lot of fun.’’
And here’s the thing for the Cubs (77-57), who increased their lead for the second wild card by eight games pending the outcome of the Washington Nationals’ game against the Atlanta Braves Saturday night. How big will it be to have arguably baseball’s hottest pitcher in Arrieta at the ready should he get the call for that Oct. 7 play-in wild card game, most likely against the Pittsburgh Pirates?
“It’s hard for me to fathom there’s anybody better than Jake Arrieta,’’ Ross said. “I know numbers are numbers and there are guys in LA doing a really good job but I’ll take that guy on the mound any day of the week.’’
With a 15-3 record and 1.59 ERA, the Dodgers’ Zack Grienke looks like the current NL Cy Young leader. Three-time Cy winner Clayton Kershaw is at 12-6, 2.18.
But Arrieta has the hot hand. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in 29 innings, and has these hits-allowed totals over his last seven starts since Aug. 4: Two, four, five, four, four, zero, four.
That’s quite a run.
“It’s right up there with the best I’ve seen,’’ said Maddon, noting he has managed David Price. “He’s been absolutely awesome. It’s a matter of how you want to apply your votes. And there’s still some time to go.’’
Arrieta, who threw 116 pitches, wasted no time putting the Johnny (back-to-back no-hitters) VanderMeer talk to rest by giving up singles to Paul Goldschmidt and David Peralta in the first. He said he had no trouble preparing this week in the aftermath of the no-hit hullabaloo.
“No. And two days after I was kind of sick of talking about it,” he said. “I was already watching video of Arizona, trying to figure out what I could do better against them this time and really try and move on.’’
Arrieta recorded 16 consecutive outs beginning with Brandon Drury’s double-play grounder hit back to the mound in the third inning. Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s ground-rule double with two outs in the seventh broke the string.
A day after slamming Arizona with 14 runs, the Cubs pecked at lefty Robbie Ray for only two on Saturday. Dexter Fowler hit his career-high 16th homer in the fifth inning after Anthony Rizzo singled and scored the first run on Ross’ high-bouncing ground out over the mound with the bases loaded in the fourth.
That was about the time Arrieta was putting scouting reports, which suggested the D-backs were skilled at staying on Arrieta’s slider and cutter, to good use. He started leaning on his changeup the second time through the D-backs order.
“It really worked well in those middle innings,’’ Arrieta said.
Everything works for Arrieta these days.
“He has command of both sides of the plate with the fastball, the cutter, the changeup and the breaking ball,’’ Ross said. “It makes my job really, really easy.’’