MESA, Ariz. – Cubs manager Joe Maddon finally dispensed with the easiest, obvious decision in camp Tuesday by naming Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta as his Opening Day starter against the Angels on April 4.
Maddon did not disclose the rotation order after Arrieta, with lefty Jon Lester or right-hander John Lackey the candidates to pitch the other game of the two-game opening series in Anaheim.
Arrieta, who had the most dominant second half in major league history last year, is the third different Opening Day starter for the Cubs in three years – fifth in seven years.
“It’s about time, right?” said last year’s opening starter, Jon Lester, who will have a streak of five straight opening assignments (four with the Red Sox) snapped.
Lester congratulated Arrieta and offered an interesting take on the assignment.
“Once you get named, obviously you’re very excited and stuff it’s one of those days that kind of sucks,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of stuff going on. I think it’s one of the hardest days to pitch, personally. It’s a lot of distractions. Just a lot of outside things that are hard to control.
“But I’m excited for him. It’s awesome. It’s a cool deal. It’s something that not a lot of people get to do, especially for organizations like this. It’ll be a cool day.”
Despite Arrieta’s relatively new place among the game’s elite pitchers, he’s not new to the opening assignment.
After winning 10 games in his first full season in the big leagues in 2011, he was the Baltimore Orioles’ Opening Day starter in 2012. He pitched seven scoreless innings in that start to beat the Minnesota Twins 4-2 at Camden Yards.
If there was even a slight issue with how he might handle an opening start, that track record extinguishes it.
“Based on what he did last year, the whole body of work, pitching in the playoffs, winning a wild-card game, I’m not really concerned,” Maddon said. “I’m sure he’s going to be amped up. There’s no doubt about it; you’re going to be amped up.
“But I think he’ll settle in. He’s got a nice routine regarding how to stay in the moment. So I think he’ll be OK.”
Arrieta went 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA last season, including 16-1, 0.86 in his final 20 starts – the first time in history a pitcher had an ERA under 1.00 in his final 20.
He and Cleveland pitcher Corey Kluber this year become only the fifth and sixth pitchers in history to win a Cy Young Award and make at least two Opening Day starters before making an All-Star team.
The four others: Pete Vuckovich, John Denny, LaMar Hoyt and Doug Drabek.